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Behind the Veil of Kickstarter Project - Curse of the Vessel - Interview with Michael Leal

Written by Luke Anthony on Sunday, January 05 2014 and posted in Features

Behind the Veil of Kickstarter Project - Curse of the Vessel - Interview with Michael Leal

If 3 lefts make a right, 3 Mikes make a Kickass Paranormal Crime Noir.

Source: Kickstarter

This falls under the 'must consider' category for me. Curse of the Vessel had a great issue #1, and issue #0 won an award. So I don't say it lightly when I say that you should check it out! For more info on my thoughts about this project, make sure to visit the review from Friday. But before reading, let me just say that these are great answers. You don't always get full disclosure like this. Ok - read on!
What inspired you to come up with the idea of a man cursed to be possessed by vengeful ghosts? 
The first kernel of the idea came from when I saw the Shadow movie starring Alec Baldwin back in the 90's. In that version of the story he was a crime lord type bad guy who is kidnapped and forced to use his evil knowledge to fight other bad guys as the Shadow. I'm not sure how accurate that is since I have never read any of the Shadow pulp novels, but that idea sort of stuck with me. A bad guy forced to do good.
Flash forward to 2009. I was a stay at home Dad living in Portland when it became very apparent that there was something living in our house that we could not see. I had encounters with strange ghostly activity before this time, but it was always something that you could dismiss if you were skeptical enough. The things that were happening in this house, however, we could not deny. There were footsteps, voices calling our names and on one occasion there was an icy hand on my back rocking me back and forth while I was laying in my bed. I was awake and my cat was laying on me reacting to something behind me that I could not see. This happened to my Wife a number of times, but I didn't really believe it until it happened to me, but that's another story.
At that time I was also consuming large quantities of reality cop shows, The First 48 and Manhunters. It's pretty compelling stuff. You couldn't make up half the twists and turns the stories took. So the unexplained activity and the true crime influences marinated in my brain for a bit and then when I was asked if I wanted to try out for Small Press Idol (American Idol for small press comics) I needed a new story. That's when Curse of the Vessel was born. I wanted to know what the ghosts wanted, why they were there and what they would do if given the chance to come back, even for one day. When you think about it, you could go anywhere with that idea. They are ghosts both good and evil. So one ghost may want to give a message to a loved one. One might want to kill a guy for wronging them. One may want to solve their own murder. There are endless possibilities for action and drama. 
Can you tell us more about the contest that yourself & collaborators won for issue #0 of Curse of the Vessel?
Small Press Idol was essentially an American Idol style competition, but for small press & indie comic creators. The team was a bit different then. Danny Kelly was doing the pencils, Nik Poliwko was the inker, Michael McElveen was the colorist. That competition was hard fought and we were the underdogs at first. We got through that by shear force of will and I think we had something that no one had really seen before. We ended up with the most votes in SPI history. Which was nice. That was the last year the contest ran. It was exhausting fore everyone involved and the way the internet was changing comics it didn't really seem to have a place anymore.
When did you first begin work on issues #1-4 of Curse of the Vessel? Can you tell us about your creative process bringing those ideas to life?
I plotted out the entire first arc when I was writing the 15 page #0 issue for SPI. #1 has been written since 2010. I would revisit that and tweak things here and there, but largely it's the same. Issue #2 is written and I really have a very detailed blueprint for the rest of the issues. All I need to do is to break it up into panels and add some more dialogue. 
My process starts with a lot of day dreaming. Basically staring off into space. Random thoughts and ideas will occur to me and the more interesting I find it the more I dwell on it and boom! A story is born. What I tend to do is obsess about a story for a long period of time until my wife begs me to shut up, and then I write it all in a day or two. I work it all out in my head ahead of time. If I'm ever stuck on a story problem or have writer's block, what I usually do is re-read and edit what I already wrote. Sometimes writer's will dwell on one aspect of a story too much and get trapped in their own heads. I find re-reading the story loosens things up and the path becomes clear.
When Mike Wilson (penciler) & Michael McElveen (colorist) & yourself collaborate does a hole in the Michael continuum burst? How did you find their great talents?
Yes it's a Crisis of Infinite Mikes situation. I can't tell you how many times we had to update our origin stories and change our costumes.
McElveen was our second colorist during SPI. The first one dropped out two days before the deadline and I scrambled to find someone, anyone to fill in. I messaged him on Facebook and he seemed to be up for the challenge. He cranked out all the model sheets in a couple of days. That's from not having any frame of reference about the book.
Wilson, I think, popped up on Myspace many moons ago. I just liked his work, so I would pay attention when he would update his page with a new D&D or Iron Man pinup. I originally offered him COTV back in 2010, but he was busy with other things. Over the course of the next couple of years I kept bugging him to work on something with me. He also lived in the Portland area so I thought it was meant to be. Last year I when I was wanting to re-boot COTV he actually contacted me and wanted to work on something. Turns out it WAS meant to be. These guys do great work and I could not be happier with the book.
What got you into writing comics? Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Originally, I wanted to be a comic book artist. I wanted to draw Spider-Man and Batman from the cartoons. I didn't know comics existed until 5th grade when one of my friends brought in one of his older brother's comics. It was Uncanny X-Men #205 and it blew my mind.  I wanted nothing more than to draw comics. I wanted to draw Wolverine like Barry Windsor-Smith did in that issue. Honestly it was one of the only things I ever wanted. I tried very hard for a long time and then I just sort of plateaued artistically near the end of high school. Of course I was shattered. I didn't even want to read comics anymore. I turned to film, which was my second love. Comics began to slowly creep back into my life and by the time I was twenty-two I was writing comics for artist friends and submitting to contests and publishers. Nothing really came of it until SPI, which brought me a lot of attention and a tiny bit of legitimacy. That's when people started coming to me and asking if I wanted to work with them. It worked out. I was always better at coming up with the ideas and back stories and oddly, costume design rather than the actual rendering of the character. Leading up to SPI I was writing for SP! Nexus Magazine and Zedura magazine. I was doing a lot of pop culture articles, comic reviews and interviews.
What comics have inspired you the most to be the creator/writer you are today?
Uncanny X-Men #205 of course. Without that one I wouldn't have pursued comics at all. That led me down the X-Men rabbit hole. I read it all. During the late 80's there was a Classic X-Men comic that basically re-printed the Clairemont / Bryne issues. I seriously loved those books. I liked how they would be fighting Arcade's android clones in one issue and then during the epilogue have a BBQ. They seemed more like a family than the Fantastic Four ever did. It was intricate storytelling with all the layered subplots and interpersonal relationships. It taught me how to balance action and character development. The Watchmen, of course, taught me what a comic book could be. It didn't have to be linear. It didn't have to be simple enough to wrap up the story in 22 pages. There didn't have to be clear good guys and bad guys. It showed me that you could do anything within those pages. I really liked the tone of Robinson's Starman run and it's something I often try to capture in my books. I think I actually owe more of my story telling techniques to animation, TV and film. I was in love with Batman the animated series, still am really. If you put that in a blender with really good episodic television like the X-Files or Lost you pretty much get my writing style.
What can you tell us about your other work on Commander X Adventures and Tales of the Grave? You seem like a busy guy!
Commander X is the creation of Jay Piscopo. We became friends when I interviewed him for SP! Nexus Magazine that was shortly before SPI. He was looking for prose pieces that he could do illustrations for in his annual Holiday Commander X specials. That was a lot of fun to do and different since I had never really tried to tell a full story in prose outside of school. As for Bela Lugosi's Tales From the Grave, when the first issue came out I was really excited because I was such a fan of Bela growing up and it was in comic form, which of course I love. So I did an interview with a lot of the talent and the editor, Kerry Gammill for Zedura Magazine. It was a lot of fun and I just really wanted to be a part of the anthology.  I just got together with Nik Poliwko my inker from SPI who is an amazing illustrator and we did a one off single page narrative about zombies and just sent it to them as a try out with a pitch for another story. I was really pressing my luck there. Kerry liked it enough to put it in the comic (issue #2) and we got a chance to do the second story I pitched (issue#3) and then the third Kerry actually pitched to us (issue #4). We are set to do more, but I just wanted to take a break to re-focus on Curse of the Vessel. It's time to get that full story out. In between all of this there were a few other comics that were in production that just never fully formed for one reason or another. People get sick, or have family obligations or better jobs pop up. That's indie comics for you.
There are some great rewards, and now you guys are giving out an additional reward - Free print to all backers on a shipping level. You're really doing this project right. Is this your first Kickstarter?
Right, This is our first Kickstarter. I have been watching other projects for a year or two and now felt like the right time to try it out. I hope it works. Right now were are close to hitting our goal, but we still have a way to go. I don't like uncertainty so I'm trying to stack the deck in our favor. I'm adding the extra Marina, the witch print to all backers that have shippable rewards as a sort of thank you for the support and to sweeten the pot for anyone who was on the fence about supporting the book. There are a number of other prints in the mix at different levels too. Jim McMunn (Vic Boone:Malfunction Murder, Fubar: By the Sword), Mike Dubisch (Robots Vs. Zombies, The People that Melt in the Rain,etc.), John Brolgia (Unmasked, Denali, God Complex), the Kickstarter Exclusive coever is by Joëlle Jones (Helheim, Spellcheckers, Dr. Horrible, Madame Xanadu etc.) 

As for our juicy rewards we have special "director's cut" versions of the book, sketch card incentives, commissions, and original art pages from the book. You can even get you or someone you know drawn into the book as a character with lines. Really cool stuff! So, jump on board!
What are your plans for issue #2-4 as far as bringing them to print? Will you be launching Kickstarters for those as well?
Depending on how the Kickstarter for #1 pans out we will be publishing the rest this way using what we have learned this time around. Of course if a publisher came around and wanted to bankroll the production of the comic and save us the trouble, I'm more than willing to listen to any offer. ;) 

What else should we know about yourself and Curse of the Vessel that we can expect to look forward to?
Besides the set up of Vincent's story there is the "B" story, basically whatever the ghost wants. There is a mystery that begins in issue #1 and unfolds in the rest of the issues regarding certain murders and a missing child. It would be a shame if no one could read that ending. If the Kickstarter is successful it will allow us to continue on with many more stories. I have several already plotted out. The titles for the next few arcs are The Long Con, The Stalker, The Lost Boy, The Caged Fighter, and The Ex. We hope to get a chance to bring them to you. If you want to make sure they come out, you gotta support the Kickstarter. It's a great avenue for indie creators to get their books made and into the hands of people that want them.


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About the Author - LukeAnthony

When Luke isn't writing reviews, he's writing manuals (occupation), original comics (vocation), children's books, or music (recreation). As a lover of all things high-concept, sci-fi, and/or philosophical, comics found their way into his life only a few years ago, at the ripe age of 26. It was V for Vendetta & Watchmen that led to his pathological media consumption rebirth of 2012. Ever since then, he found himself happier, more child-like, a tad bit smarter, and a much better liar. True to Outhouser gospel, he believes humor, like water, must be present in all things. If it's not, it's too dry & sucks the life out. Sarcasm, the salty demeanor of the South, frightened this idealist in youth, but is now the occasional spice used in his well seasoned personality. He sold all he had to leave his old world behind (cars, house, belongings) & become a full-time traveler across the US of A, a decision that altered his inner world as much as his outer one. If it has humor, depth, spiritual significance, and/or technicality and in that order, then consider it on this briny dude's shelf and up for review. Favorite on-going series include Black Science and Saga. This light, but deep fellow can be found on Facebook and/or Twitter.

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