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This week we’ve got Sydney-based Paul Caggegi, creator of the PANDEIA comic from a few years back, and having great success on Patreon and his webcomic series, HOMEBASED.
My first foray into creating comics was rife with beginner mistakes.
The worst being its sprawling epic storyline. It was impossible to pitch, contained a cast of thousands, and I handled everything from the writing, art and even most of the lettering.
The project was called Pandeia – a sci-fi action adventure set in a future where our moon had been obliterated. It followed the lives of characters from warring city-states who come together and discover they had been left behind by an elite faction who had left for the stars generations ago. I produced six issues between 2010 and 2016. I ran a successful kickstarter to fund the first trade paperback print run. I was aiming to eventually produce 26 issues in total.
At the time, I was really proud of what I was producing, but looking back, the art now makes me cringe: inconsistencies in line and colour; camera angles were all over the place; the writing was filled with dialogue that was overly verbose or that went nowhere.
Yet somehow, through podcasting, self-promotion and conventions, I managed to gain a modest audience. The book sold well enough, and it was the touchstone through which I would meet and become friends with a wide range of creative people.
That effort, though. In 2011 I became a first-time dad. In 2015, we had our second child, and it was looking more and more likely that I’d have to throttle back on work as whole to focus on my family, and support my wife, who’s career was heading in challenging directions. Work on Pandeia was either going to have to get smarter, slower, or stop altogether.
In the end, my production on the book ground to a halt. The cost of conventions kept going up, and the time and effort it took to produce and promote were not being covered by the meagre sales. I told myself that I could work on the book after everyone had gone to bed, or early in the mornings, or in whatever pockets of time I could find. But I also had think of an end date.
26 issues!? What was I thinking?
It took me just over four years to produce six! I worked out that I wouldn’t finish the run of my first ever title for another 17 years.
I had to think long and hard about what I wanted out of this gig. I had to work within the constraints put on me by home life, kids and part-time lecturing. I couldn’t afford to keep making losses on conventions, not when I had a young family to help take care of on weekends. I couldn’t justify spending 2-3 days not selling anything, or growing my brand in a positive way. My goals began to evolve.
I realised that I was promoting Pandeia as the brand, when I should have really been promoting myself.
So I quit the convention circuit. I would only pursue projects which could be completed in a short amount of time, and which would promote me as widely as possible. I began small: short articles on producing indie comics. I pitched these to a former university friend who happened to write for Allure media. Thanks to him, I got published on Lifehacker, Kotaku and Gizmodo. He would further commission me to create illustrated headers for some of his articles.
In Late 2015, Forward Comix – a small New York publisher – was on the lookout for refugee stories to put in an upcoming anthology. I developed a story with the help of my wife, about a refugee family fleeing a war-torn asteroid. It was loosely based on my In-Law’s experience of commissioning, building, and eventually boarding a boat, and escaping Vietnam in 1981. They loved the story and the concept art I sent them, and Dear Giang was published in the Gwan Anthology in late 2016. The anthology has since been nominated for several awards, and is widely available through sites such as Amazon and Book Depository.
All the while, a fresh comic idea had been percolating away in the back of my head. It was based on an amusing conversation about what it would take for my daughter to become a real princess. It was much closer to home, and might not be as exciting a sell as science fiction. Comics about parenting were already out there – Fowl Language and Lunar Baboon just to name a couple.
For it to have any chance, it was going to need a strong angle, and would have to have a humour which was both relevant to today’s modern life, while at the same time being its own thing. I was also adamant to not go down the “family friendly” path so often travelled by those hoping to appeal to the widest possible audience. No: my comic was squarely aimed at adults. My characters would swear. They would make bad decisions. They would be shown with their heads buried in their phones, and they would bicker for your amusement. It would be more about the reality of family life, and not an attempt to moralise. My comic was not going to be something parents would pick up for their kids; they were going to pick it up for themselves.
I scoured past Facebook posts for any amusing stories I’d shared about my family. Each time I had a funny, or quirky or oddball idea, I wrote it down on an ever-expanding list. I did a little concept art of the characters, initially not giving them names – they’d be referred to as “dad” and “princess”. I was concerned with the time it would take to produce a single strip, so I chose a simple style, and rendered it in greyscale, because thinking about color choices added a whole other layer to the process – not to mention printing in black-and-white is also cheaper, and I’d hoped one day to collect these strips in a book.
I researched panel and page sizes based on other successful web comics, printed strips. I considered which social media platforms to target. While I initially set up a Tumblr, LinkedIn and Twitter account, but these got nowhere near the response of Instagram, Facebook and Webtoons. I eventually chose to draw the strip in Clip Studio Paint instead of Photoshop, mainly because I liked its brush-set, but also because creating, modifying and reusing templates was a breeze.
The first few strips were produced quickly over the Christmas break. I found I could knock out a six-panel strip in about 3-4 hours. I also discovered that the more comics I did, the more assets I could pilfer from previous strips, thus cutting down a strip’s turnaround time dramatically.
By the end of January, I had completed almost 30 and I arranged them in an order for scheduled release. In late March of 2017, the first Homebased strip went online at homebasedcomic.com and I was sharing it on Webtoons, Tapas, Instagram and Facebook.
The initial reception was pretty good, and it certainly outshined anything Pandeia ever got online. I got a lot of responses from friends and family to begin with, but as strips dealing with pop culture got posted, I gained a wider audience. In the last ten months, I’ve produced 74 strips, and total views of the website alone are well over 32K. Webtoons boasts some 17.5K and over on instagram, the total likes on just the nine most popular is close to 10K.
But the response wasn’t only in modest fan numbers and page views. I somehow got the attention of Gary Dellar, who pestered me for a coloured strip he could include in his Reverie relaunch. Jason Badower – a good friend and self-confessed Homebased fan – insisted to look over any future strips before they went out. His editorial contributions have not only made some of the individual strips stronger, but I’ve learned a lot about stronger layout and flow: which character should talk first in a panel; word balloon placement and so on.
Homebased is really how I should have started in comics: a simple idea created with a minimum of effort, designed and distributed for maximum impact. It’s writing what I know in a style and genre which I can produce a comfortable pace. While I cannot discount the experience I’ve gained, nor the amazing network I’ve procured, The best advice is what we so often ignore.
The old adage “Keep it simple, stupid” is really where you should begin.