Interview: Kevin LaPorte on Small Press Comics in the South, Roadkill and Successfully Running Kickstarter Campaigns
Kevin LaPorte is one of the two founders of Inverse Press, an Alabama based comics publisher. Inverse Press's books tilt towards the weird and dark, with a little bit of subversive Southern humor mixed in. LaPorte has been involved with a number of Kickstarter campaigns in connection with Inverse Press, including a recently started Kickstarter for the third issue of Roadkill du Jour, a horror series that mixes motorcycle gangs, voodoo magic and Southern folklore.
We recently spoke with LaPorte about Roadkill du Jour, its origins and inspirations and his success in running Kickstarter campaigns. His current Kickstarter campaign, which will fund the third issue of Roadkill du Jour can be found here.
Christian Hoffer: This Kickstarter campaign is for the third issue of Roadkill du Jour. For readers unfamiliar with the book, what's the basic premise of the comic?
Kevin LaPorte: Roadkill du Jour is the story of the last survivor of a decimated biker gang who has been cursed to eat nothing but roadkill ‘til the end of his days. Strangely, each animal he consumes lends him their physical attributes for at time after they’re eaten. So far, armadillo armor and vulture wings have graced his body after indulging in street pizza. He is on a mission to rebuild his gang, lift that disgusting curse and get revenge against the rival gang’s witch, the one who put the hex on him!
In the first two issues (currently available in digital or print form at http://www.inversepress.com), we’ve seen this biker (duJour is his name) survive everything the witch Mama Houdoo can throw at him as he sought out the misfits that now make up his Roadkill Motorcycle Club. He’s survived giant, possessed alligators, soul-stealing owls and even a tussle with an anthropomorphic catfish that has ultimately become a close ally. As we open issue 3, duJour and his reformed gang are on the road to Mama’s lair…
Hoffer: You've run two previous Kickstarter campaigns to fund past issues of Roadkill du Jour, and have run a total of eleven successful Kickstarter campaigns. What's your secret to running so many successful Kickstarter campaigns?
LaPorte: Delivering what’s promised when it’s promised. That’s the secret. In other words, taking care of the backers – the people that take care of us. And that really goes beyond simply producing the comics and the ancillary rewards (e.g., trading cards, posters, custom art, etc.). It means communicating with them, involving them in the process in as immersive a way as possible, whether that be through production insights and updates or adding their likenesses to characters or their names to covers. We’ve developed a small, but fiercely loyal following that sticks with us from project to project.
Hoffer: Have you experienced any sort of fatigue from running so many campaigns, either from yourself or readers?
LaPorte: For me, no, I haven’t experienced crowdfunding fatigue, although I can see why you’d ask that question. It is a grind preparing, running and fulfilling a Kickstarter campaign, but it’s exhilarating to produce the product and then introduce it to prospective consumers and backers in ways that are inherently unique to crowdfunding. Backers often get to see production and concept art in advance of the final comic, and we get to hear their feedback as well. It’s very involved, but even more fun and fulfilling.
As for backers and readers, we’ve not seen fatigue there, either. Certain projects appeal more to certain backers, but they tend to stick with us once they become involved in one or more particular titles.
We took a 6-month hiatus from campaigns beginning in October, 2013, so we should all be refreshed by now! While it’s not our plan to crowdfund every issue we produce in perpetuity, at our current level of independent comic publishing, it’s a great way to gain publicity, in addition to the financial boon.
Hoffer: What sort of reception has Roadkill du Jour and Inverse Press received from comics press and retailers? Have local stores been eager to pick up a locally made comic like Roadkill du Jour?
LaPorte: I'm pleased to say that there have been a number of reviews of Roadkill du Jour issues 1 and 2, and they've been overwhelmingly positive! It's always cool to me for a thoughtful reviewer to not only enjoy the story but to pick up on themes or subplots that go beyond the surface, and we were lucky enough that most of the folks who gave their time to read and review this book have done so. I can't adequately relate just how gratifying it is to have critical readers both enjoy and "get" my story on levels that, in one or two cases, I'd not even consciously considered. For anyone who's interested, I've posted a full listing of reviews of Roadkill du Jour (thus far...) as Update #2 on the Kickstarter page (http://kck.st/1kQFYmi), so check'em out. There have been critical trends across those reviews, and they're worth noting - primarily the heavy dialect I employ with some characters and the fast pace of the story that introduces new characters abruptly in some cases. While those are stylistic choices on my part as the writer, I've definitely taken the criticism into account in work I've produced since.
As for retailers, MOST comic shop owners are simply reluctant to even consider an indie book for their stores. That's a harsh, but common, reality. However, in cases where I've been fortunate enough to arrange a meeting and actually let them see our books, hear my pitch for each and enjoy the art as they flip through the pages, they almost always decide to carry the books. The Inverse Press retailer network is small but growing. Our local comic shops - FOS Comics and 99 Issues - have been remarkably supportive. Each shop keeps Roadkill du Jour in stock, as well as our other Inverse Press titles - Flesh of White (by Erica Heflin and Amanda Rachels) and Last Ride for Horsemen (by myself, Nathan Smith and Gavin Michelli). They've brought me in to promote the book with signings or during special events of their own, as well. I honestly can't say enough positive about how these two stores have interwoven their businesses with the comic community at large in the Mobile, Alabama area, including the creative aspect of that community. They've made a lot of what we've done possible.
Hoffer: Roadkill du Jour has a very diverse cast, including a young black man, a talking anthropomorphic catfish and a lesbian biker. What went into the development of these characters, and how do you think they've been received so far?
LaPorte: In all honesty, each of those characters came out of my brain in the form you see them in the book. There was no set plan to represent certain races or sexual orientations or species of anthropomorphic fish. As I plotted the series, I knew the types of relationships I wanted duJour to have with his allies and enemies, and these are just the personalities that sprang forth from that thought process. Mobile, Alabama, and surrounding areas – where I grew up – are extremely diverse in terms of lifestyles and ethnicities, and I’ve enjoyed a nearly 20-year career in mental health/social services, thus immersing me in many of them on a daily basis. Those facts may play some role in how the cast of Roadkill du Jour gestated in my head and came out as they did. But, mostly, I felt they were interesting people – some good, some bad – that would be compelling to read about.
Hoffer: Do you plan on introducing any more characters to the gang as the series moves on?
LaPorte: As of the end of issue 2, duJour has resurrected the Roadkill Motorcycle Club to the extent that he needs to for his intended goal of going after Mama Houdoo, and each member has his/her own motivation for participating in that effort. That’s not to say there won’t be a surprise addition to the ranks at some point in the last two chapters…
Hoffer: With a main character that derives his powers from eating roadkill, it seems that Roadkill du Jour caters to fans of the freakish and bizarre. What sort of audience has Roadkill du Jour gained during its first two issues? Has it attracted the sort of audience that you're looking for?
LaPorte: Well, I can truthfully say that I’m happy that it’s attracted AN audience, haha. In addition to Kickstarter backers, I’ve sold many copies on the convention circuit and via our small – but growing – network of comics retailers. So, I’ve personally been present to meet many of the buyers, and it’s a really diverse group of folks (admittedly, mostly male) in terms of age and demographics. The one thing they all seem to have in common is an almost immediate reaction to the pitch for a comic about a biker who gains the abilities of animals he eats as roadkill. They all voice being taken with themes they’ve not heard of before. So, maybe they’re all just looking for something a little…different…
Hoffer: You mentioned that Roadkill du Jour has a mainly male fanbase. Do you feel that the book has appeal for female readers as well? Would you like to grow Inverse Press's readership to include more female readers?
LaPorte: Sure, you mentioned the diversity of the cast earlier, and we want our reader base for Roadkill du Jour to be just as diverse. My observation is simply that mostly males (and a diverse group of them...) respond quickly to the cover art and the concept/pitch. As for Inverse Press as a whole, I think there is a strong and burgeoning female reader base, particularly for Erica and Amanda's Flesh of White and for the coulrophobia-inducing Clown Town graphic novel Amanda and I completed a few years ago (available now on comiXology...ahem). I definitely don't want to overstate any demographics of our readership, as what I'm saying is purely limited to data collected by direct eyesight. The nature of indie comics is that you put the books out as far and wide as possible, and you're really never quite sure who's doing the buying, as there are few realistic options for sales analysis.
Hoffer: Roadkill du Jour features a lot of different and sometimes disparate southern mythological elements, including ample amounts of voodoo folklore. What sort of research did you do while building the world of Roadkill du Jour, and how much of the creepier elements is derived from actual folklore and how much of it originated from yourself?
LaPorte: The only research I did in any formal manner was into the essence of voodoo itself, and I ultimately only utilized the concept of animism – the belief that all things (including inanimate objects) have a spirit or soul. In Roadkill du Jour, I limited my use of animism mostly to living creatures, although inanimate objects – such as Papoose’s tomahawk and Chucklehead’s gold tooth – have the potential to temporarily house a soul. The movement of coherent souls between and within (and without) bodies is a central theme of the story that speaks to the preposterous idea of soulmates that is addressed throughout the book. That’s not an element of Southern or voodoo folklore, obviously, but a bizarre and widely preached social phenomenon that lends itself to exploration with voodoo concepts like animism. This use of souls as transports and weapons and even as prisons is the driving force of magic use in Roadkill du Jour, as almost every single supernatural occurrence involves transmogrifying a soul in some capacity.
As for Southern folklore, it informs much of the aesthetic of the book. We grow up around here hearing about giant alligators in the woods and seeking to catch that epic-sized catfish in the pond down the road. Motorcycles, whether dirt bikes or Harleys, are the ultimate in cool and toughness. There are even “rural legends” regarding bizarre roadkill finds, including massive alligators and wolves and such. And, naturally, a more religious part of the country echoes with cautionary tales of Satan worshippers and witches that live on the darker ends of dirt roads (anybody watch True Detective?).
Hoffer: What's the most bizarre roadkill find you've ever experienced?
LaPorte: I worked for 16 years at a psychiatric hospital that was seriously housed in a 19th century facility that was once a Confederate arsenal (there were modern buildings for treatment and housing purposes...), and it was located 30+ miles north of Mobile, which meant logging lots of drive time through the woods over many, many days. So, I saw lots of weird roadkill, but the MOST bizarre was a 10+ foot alligator that had obviously been hit a few times by 18-wheelers, as there was enough red and green splattered across the road to color Christmas for a few years to come. Then, there was that time Amanda and I were driving back from Albuquerque and came across what had to be a large porcupine flattened in the road. Looked like a giant, meat-pink sea anemone...
Hoffer: How does Magnolia Springs, Alabama, where you currently live, and the deep South factor into the writing of the book? Do you feel that the deep South has been accurately portrayed in other comics and media?
LaPorte: I’ve lived in the deepest part of Alabama my whole life, so my experiences growing up here definitely influenced the feel and the personalities of Roadkill du Jour, in ways I’ve referred to previously. I would not say that my story is in any way an accurate portrayal of the South, as it’s basically a gore-encrusted revenge fable. However, I think the personalities in the story are instantly recognizable to Southerners, and that’s been borne out by the feedback I receive from readers. While it’s still a weird world, Southerners who read it find it somehow…familiar…though that’s not to say readers from other areas don’t enjoy it. Their experience is just a little different.
The Deep South is portrayed so many different ways in other comics and media that it’s hard to so how accurately that’s accomplished. I mentioned True Detective earlier. That’s as close a real depiction of coastal Louisiana as you’re going to find in a Lovecraft-tinged, noir detective story. I felt like I’d met those people – the good and the bad – in most circumstances. Of course, there are always the movies/television shows with the exaggerated accents and weird use of “y’all” that are egregiously bad and obviously crafted by someone who’s never visited anywhere south of the Yukon, but, for every one of those, there’s a Chris Claremont rendition of Rogue – a native Mississippian with a real, thoughtfully represented accent you can hear even from word balloons. It’s a mixed bag – one just hopes to find mostly the good, as with anything else.
Hoffer: What's it like being a local comics creator from a small town in the South? Is Inverse Press something you're locally known for?
LaPorte: Although I live in Fairhope, just 30 minutes from the Gulf of Mexico, we're really part of the larger Mobile metro area, which is surprisingly large, population-wise, and inclusive of Biloxi, Mississippi and Pensacola, Florida. It's not all that small, really, but being a comics creator here can make you feel like it is. There are surprisingly few of us making comics down here, but, now that social media and local events have put us all in contact, it's a thriving culture. We get solid local coverage from the local newspaper/news website, and the local arts councils take us seriously. So, yeah, I'm "that comic guy" now around here, and it's usually the first thing folks ask me about when I run into them. I enjoy that, and so do all the ridiculously talented collaborators I'm fortunate enough to work with.
Hoffer: Since this interview is being conducted via email, I have to ask, just how thick is your Southern accent?
LaPorte: Honestly, I don't have much of an accent, which makes me unique among my immediate family. Ever since I was a teenager, locals would ask me where I'm from. I don't know to what I should attribute my minimal accent, as it's not something I consciously modified. However, whenever I travel north, people quickly identify me as a Southerner and remind me there's some little bit of twang in here somewhere. Or maybe it's just the constant requests for sweet tea...
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About the Author - Christian Hoffer
Christian Hoffer is the exasperated Abbott to the Outhouse's Costello. When he's not yelling at the Newsroom for upsetting readers or complaining to his wife about why the Internet is stupid, he sits in his dingy business office trying to find new ways to make the site earn money. Hoffer is also the only person in history stupid enough to moderate two comic book forums at once.
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