Pittsburgh cartoonist Nate McDonough’s graphic novel Don’t Come Back is quite interesting. It is nightmarish and convoluted in a good way. There are falling angels, dogs peeing in a cemetery, and one screaming chicken demon in the pizza box. There is death and resurrection. Don’t worry about me spoiling the ending. I’m not sure I figured it out. Another fascinating thing about Don’t Come Back – All 160 pages are available online Free! Here, the entire book, Nate’s gift.
Nate raised over $700 on Kickstarter to get this project in print. In 2011 Publisher’s Weekly reported that Kickstarter.com was the third largest source of indy graphic novels in the U.S. Today it looms even larger. Yet Kickstarter is not a publisher, but a funding site that savvy entrepreneurs and artists use to essentially pre-sell creative projects of all kinds. I’ve contributed modest sums to 7 Kickstarter ventures.
Full disclosure: Nate is a close friend of my son Daniel. Incredibly, I first met Nate, by chance, as he and I were gassing up at a Sheetz in Wheeling, West Virginia. Nate popped the trunk of his red 2005 Chevy cobalt and gave me a pile of his monthly zine, Grixly.
Have Coffee with Nate: Yinz near Pittsburgh? Don’t miss the Release Party for DON’T COME BACK. Weds, May 30, 7:00pm at Copacetic Comics and Lili Coffee Shop in Polish Hill. Here is your personal YouTube invitation. Even if you can’t make it, next time you are in Pittsburgh visit this great indy comic shop and great indy coffee shop.
Q & A with Nate McDonough.
Nate talks about his art education, Pittsburgh, his zine, and how Kickstarter worked for him. He talks frankly about the dollars and cents of the project and offers advice for aspiring comics artists. Interested in doing your own project?
Nate, how old are you and where did you study illustration?
I’m 24. I went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh for three years for a Bachelor’s in Graphic Design. The emphasis on illustration in the program was minimal. Cartooning and comics were entirely absent from the curriculum. AIP was important for me and my attitude toward my work. I got a very clear idea of what I did and did not want to do in the realm of art commercial, creative and otherwise.
Why stay in Pittsburgh?
I live in Pittsburgh! I cannot imagine leaving the place. In all the time I’ve spent ruminating over what I could do to be happier, healthier, more successful, less worried about the vicissitudes of life, etc. moving away has never once come to mind. Besides all that, where am I gonna’ find a setup sweeter than Cyberpunk Apocalypse? Beautiful city, dear friends, cheap everything. It can’t be beat!
What’s the story of your zine, Grixly?
I’ve loved comics as long as I’ve been able to turn a page, drawing them almost as long, but didn’t start thinking about a series until I was 20. I had about a hundred pages that I’d put together since starting college. I thought that would be the first four or five issues of GRIXLY. A cover, a table of contents, 18 pages of comics. Five pieces of folded toner printed pages, saddle-stitched with two staples. I thought I was a genius! The first issue met with resounding indifference (outside of my roommate and girlfriend.) I realized I’d have to start making better comics. Junking the stack of old pages I started drawing a new issue every month.
What kept you going?
Very rarely you’ll find someone who makes great comics from the first panel they ever draw. That certainly isn’t me. I’ve drawn thousands of pages over the last few years. I am never as excited with what I’ve just finished as what I’m going to work on next. The first year working on Grixly I put out twelve issues. I was motivated primarily by getting better, winning the approval of my peers and escaping all the naive maudlin tortured artist nonsense I was letting myself get wrapped up in at the time by drawing all the fucking time.
I started turning my focus to longer stories when I got out of school and I didn’t really need anything exterior to the nervous habit / obsession / full blown love I’d developed for drawing by that point. I put out nine more issues, some work in anthologies and a few random minis over the next year and started doing some collaborative stuff with friends, before I took a break to work on the book I finished late last year.
Since then there’s been a new issue of Grixly released, another finished, my largest collaborative work sits on the bedroom floor half inked and the thumbnails for the next book sit on the desk half-drawn.
Why do you give away Don’t Come Back online?
Cause all the cool kids are doing it! And I’d probably sabotage myself out of sales if it wasn’t available for free somewhere by giving the book away or selling it at cost. I’d say most people who have bought it read it online first. A common thing nowadays, still it’s something I could have never got my head around ten, even five, years ago.
What was the Kickstarter experience like? How does it work?
Kickstarter was great. Very easy. Very simple. I’d gotten myself so worked up over how much of a task it would be, but a couple hours of work right off the bat and scant minutes spent on promotion over the next month and it worked out great! The goal was modest, but I’m glad to have now graduated to not just breaking even, but breaking even and having a bit of scratch left over for pens, ink, paper, and a couple months of rent. Kickstarter takes 5% and Amazon takes around 3% for processing the credit card transactions.
A friend of mine who started out self-publishing ordered his books printed on demand one hundred at a time, sold them all, put money in the bank, ordered a hundred more ad infinitum. He suggested this model, I’m trying it out and am almost to the bottom of my first order of one hundred. I printed through CreateSpace. Strangely, unit cost is the same for one as for 100, about $5.30 per book.
What did you learn from this project ?
I learned a bit about telling a long form story, got better at laying out a page and working with the pen and brush, but there was really only one epiphany I had in the time I worked on Don’t Come Back. A good work ethic isn’t predicated on killing oneself. Every single day I was working on the book and I constantly felt like I was going too slow, was slacking, needed to streamline my pencil/ink process, etc. On finishing it I realized I’d made a 157 page book (amongst many smaller projects) in eight months. I started giving myself a little vacation every now and then. I still draw every day, but I’ve stopped denying myself sleep (as often as I was anyways.)
Any advice for someone trying to start a comics zine?
Make it immediately and then make another! Trial and error, exposure to peers, and steadily working at your craft are very good things!
Draw everyday (even if it’s something simple and quick)!
Draw with friends! Don’t be lonely!
Submit to anthologies if you’re scared to make your own comic. Or do a flip book with a buddy! Make a few quarter sized minis of your favorite pages in you’re sketchbook and give them to friends!
Do it now! NOW! Send me one! (firstname.lastname@example.org) Let’s trade!