Charles D. Chenet is the Founder of Dare2Draw, a program for up and coming artists in the comic book industry. Teaming with Editor Brendan Wright, Charles has launched a Kickstarter to release an anthology of stories from professional writers and new coming artists. We spoke with Chenet and Wright regarding the project.
The Outhouse: What is Dare2Draw?
Charles D. Chenet: Dare2Draw is a mentoring and networking organization based in New York, created out of the need for artists to support each other and work together. From our mission statement:
Dare2Draw is a 501(c)(3), not-for-profit, educational and cultural organization dedicated to creating and supporting mentoring and networking opportunities for cartoonists of all levels; cultivating the awareness of and appreciation for the study of sequential art; and the furtherance and preservation of the comic book medium's contributions to literacy, art, and culture, through outreach programs, events, and projects.
OH: How did you decide on these writers?
CDC: When I first came up with the idea for the project, I reached out to some writer friends that love comics and grew up with Nexus. T. J. Glenn and Jason Sterr both wanted to pitch in and help the project come to life. In the case of Alex de Campi, Dare2Draw's own Simon Fraser has worked with her and got Alex onboard for the project. Then Brendan Wright came online and made the rest happen.
Brendan Wright: I didn't know Alex came in through Simon! I thought it was this total coincidence that she was on board, since the two of us work together a lot. But she and Simon teamed up on Grindhouse, which I edited when I was at Dark Horse, so that's a bit more of a connection than I realized.
For the writers I reached out to, I made a list of people I had worked with at Dark Horse or whom I had been wanting to work with, people that I knew already had the rhythm of 4–8-page stories down, and kind of guessed based on their past work and stated preferences who might be Nexus fans. Generally speaking, everyone was really busy, but Ron Marz, Eric M. Esquivel, Amy Chu, and Corinna Bechko all answered with some variation on, "But I love Nexus, so I will find the time!"
OH: How did you pick your artists?
CDC: Rory Smith, Lynne Yoshii, and Earl Womack are all past winners from Dare2Draw events. Yifeng Jiang and Elisa Feliz were both classmates of mine at the Kubert School, and I've always been a big fan of their work. Elliot Fernandez is closer to my age, a father, who came into comics late and, against all odds, worked hard and developed his skills to this point of excellence. I was moved by Elliot's story and asked one of our Board members, to reach out to him, which he was happy to do.
BW: The exceptions to the Dare2Draw/Charles connection are the Joe Kubert School students who drew two of the stories, Cecilia Liang and Idan Knafo. The school sent us a few of their most promising third-year students, and I think Cecilia and Idan jumped out at both of us right away as folks with storytelling chops and styles that were unique from any of the artists already on board and from each other. Working with them was among the most fun parts of the project.
OH: You have professional colorists assigned to this project. Going forward will you use up and coming colorists?
BW: This volume is mostly focused on giving line artists the opportunity to work with a seasoned team and learn from their experience and in many cases to see their work colored by a working professional for the first time. At the time the Kickstarter was announced we had Tom Zuiko and Paul Mounts confirmed, but we are bringing on some more colorists with the help of Marissa Louise, who I work with a lot and who is a great advocate for new talent in the industry. Everyone we're talking to is already working, but they're newer to the business than Tom and Paul. We also gave the artists the chance to color their own work if they wanted, and Rory Smith and Earl Womack took us up on it.
CDC: Rory and Earl did color, but were given additional instruction through the process.
There are many aspects of the creation of comic books that we want to be able to mentor people through, like coloring, and we plan to incorporate in further volumes, by having them work with more senior, established talent to help them meet the standard and quality of professional work.
OH: Part of the money raised goes to pay the artists. Isn't exposure payment itself? That's what the creative writing course at Trump University taught me.
BW: As they say, you can't buy groceries with exposure, but I do think the way we talk about exposure today possibly gives the concept itself a bad rap. Exposure is not a replacement for payment, but it's a great bonus on top of payment, and one of the goals of this anthology is to promote the contributors as much or more than Nexus or Dare2Draw. We've been making sure to feature several of the artists in the Kickstarter video and promotional materials, and we're running bios and photos of everyone in the book so that editors can recognize them at conventions. In the short term, though, I imagine the page rate will be more comforting to folks who, in some cases, are fresh out of school and looking for work.
OH: The program is meant to prepare artists for the industry. What is it doing to prepare them for rampant sexual harassment and exploitative business practices?
BW: When we started this, sexual harassment in comics was a serious, pernicious issue but hadn't quite blown up in the way that it has since April, and it's been difficult to address in the limited time that we're working with each contributor on this project. That said, about half of the contributors are women, from writers to artists to colorists, and the art teams are both quite international and racially diverse, so hopefully we're helping to normalize an environment where it's not all white guys reinforcing each other's behavior and biases. Still, you have a really good point about directly addressing sexual harassment to new artists, as it's something far too many of them, of any gender, will encounter as they get into the industry. It's certainly something I've been witness to, though not experienced directly, and I want to make sure that's something we do talk with the next batch of artists about.
In terms of business practices, reinforcing that even new talent working on a book meant to give them exposure should be paid sets an example, as does the kind of active participation we have from Nexus creators Mike Baron and Steve Rude, who kindly let us use their Nexus for this book. When you own your characters, you can do whatever you want with them!
OH: This anthology series is based around Nexus. This character has been in and out of print, with his last appearance being 2012 (correct me if I'm wrong on that). What made you choose this character for your anthology?
BW: Nexus has been appearing more recently in Dark Horse Presents, including material I edited, which is collected in the Nexus: Into the Past paperback that came out in December. There's also the Nexus newspaper-format series, which Mike and Steve Kickstarted last year, so we're in pretty good company. Nexus was part of the book before I was, so I'm not totally sure how that came about.
CDC: When I was learning to draw and looking for inspiration, very few artists got my attention. When I discovered Steve Rude and Mike Baron's Nexus, Steve's distinct style and sensibility knocked my socks off. As an artist trying to find my voice, Steve's work sang to me. It put the fire in my belly to learn more and to find out how in the world he did what he did. With Nexus, I hoped to bring that kind of experience to artists who hadn't grown up with the series and help them discover their own way of working. Getting to know Steve's work and figuring out how he does it would be a valuable lesson to any comic book artist striving for excellence.
While the anthology was in the early planning stages, Steve came to town, thanks to our friends at a local New Jersey convention, and he joined us as our mentoring guest at one of our classic Dare2Draw four-and-a-half-hour events, which included an incredible painting demo by Steve. He loved our mission to mentor artists and was happy to support us and our project.
OH: There are over a hundred issue of Nexus, how much will the reader need to know going into the anthology?
BW: Nothing! We have an introductory five-page story by artist Idan Knafo and writer Eric M. Esquivel which provides background on who Nexus is and what he's about, and the remaining stories are straight-ahead adventure, some featuring Nexus and some featuring his supporting cast, including stories starring Judah the Hammer, Clonezone the Hilariator, and the team of Sundra, Jil, and Mezz. Previous familiarity with Nexus will fill in how these characters fit together in the universe, but each story is a complete read on its own.
OH: Being over the whole project each of these stories must feel like a child of yours. So pick a favorite.
BW: This is a case where the stock answer is the truth: my job is to fall in love with every book or story I work on, and I think that part of my success as an editor has been my ability to do that.
Every single story involved working with a creator that I love working with, or a moment in a story that made me laugh or smile, or a surprise in the art that delighted me, or a new connection to someone in comics that I can't wait to work with again. Sorry to give the lame non-answer there, but really, I can't single one out without giving short shrift to the others that were really important to me too.
OH: You're teaming with Dark Horse for the publication of this project. What led to you teaming with them?
CDC: Six years ago, when I created the Dare2Draw and was looking for support from established comic book companies, Dark Horse was the only one that responded. Their response was very encouraging—they believed in what I was trying to do and are sympathetic to the needs of developing artists trying to survive in this industry. We've been able to count on Dark Horse for support ever since.
BW: Dark Horse currently publishes Nexus stories new and old, and since they've been a supporter of Dare2Draw in the past, as well as generally being great advocates for creators and creator-owned comics, continuing the relationship for this project is a no-brainer. To clarify, Dark Horse is helping promote the book and providing digital rewards, but Dare2Draw is publishing solo, which is why the Kickstarter is so essential.
OH: If successful, are there plans to do this again? At what frequency?
BW: The goal is publish annually, and we have characters selected for the next two. We let slip at the very bottom of the Kickstarter campaign that we have teamed with the Will Eisner Estate to feature the Spirit in vol. 2. So that's another reason to make sure we successfully fund vol. 1, to make sure readers also get to check out the great stuff we have planned for the Spirit in 2017!
CDC: Plans for the future are to formalize the process of bringing on talent for the anthology, to create an established, annual proving ground for artists with the help of seasoned professionals, and help them find their voices and make their way through the hurdles to survive and hopefully thrive with a career in comics.
OH: The opportunities extend beyond the currently assigned artists and to the contributors. Some of your rewards are professional portfolio reviews (writing and/or art) for $200. You are already working with new talent, what made you decided to take on more in exchange for funding?
CDC: That's a good question. The value on these limited mentoring rewards, from Brendan and Simon, is not nearly enough to cover the effort and time that these mentors are willing to provide and want to give, to someone who's serious.
It's not so much about an exchange of money for this particular reward—since the mentors doing it insisted that it would be obtainable to anybody that is really serious about the quality of their work. This is not a course or a class but a genuine gesture of building on the mentorship that the Dare2Draw stands for and our mission.
BW: Pitch and script consulting is something I already do as a freelancer, and fitting in a couple more isn't a big problem. It also seemed like a good way for me to donate something to the campaign, since Dare2Draw is a nonprofit. For reading and giving feedback on a whole script, this price is a small discount compared to hiring me directly, plus you get the book, so hopefully it's something people with a project in need of another set of eyes will be excited by. In the case of the others offering reviews, it's a great way of opening up what Dare2Draw offers beyond just those who can physically attend events.
OH: Can retailers benefit from this?
CDC: Yes. Retailers are a very important part of comics, since it's not only a place to get your books but also a safe place to connect with fellow comic book aficionados and budding new talent inspired by the work in the books they love.
For a retailer who has waves of new books and titles coming from the top comic book companies, there's rarely any real benefit to allocating some of their precious real estate to the smaller publishers, even though they'd like to. It's hard when they're trying to make their nut. I know this, since I was a partner at a comic book store called Backdate Magazines in the Chelsea Hotel in the '80s. It was hard back then to carry all the new books. I can only imagine how much more difficult it is now, with the flood of multiple titles coming out.
How can this book benefit retailers? Well, it's an opportunity to support the community of up-and-coming talent, as well as the professionals that are mentoring them, that are currently working on mainstream books for the top companies. And use their multiple notorieties to offer the book to their fans, which carries a real human interest element that you don't find in the current avalanche of books that are coming out weekly.
The retailers can get the printed book directly from the Dare2Draw, thereby supporting it as a nonprofit, as well as getting access to a very unique, limited-edition, collectable Nexus book.
Fans of the people involved in the book will be looking for it, to have it signed by their favorite creators at conventions. That's why we're also offering a reasonable retailer option through the campaign. The Retailer's Reward is a pack of 10 for $125, a big discount that also helps us pay the artists and get the book made.
You can support Dare2Draw and Nexus at their Kickstarter.