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This week we’ve got Sydney-based Tad Pietrzykowski, creator and publisher of THE DARK NEBULA comic well as co-creating The Golden Age Southern Cross: Superhero characters that appeared in Cyclone Comics during the 80’s and early 90’s on Australian newsstands.
It’s said we’re a product of our time and are limited by the technology of the day.
It’s never truer when looking back over 36 years ago when I embarked on creating & releasing The Dynamic Dark Nebula graphic novel back in ’82.
Back then there was no comics network, as it now exists. The only contact I had was Glenn Lumsden and he was studying for the HSC at the time. Bear in mind I broke ground on the art in 1981. If we had the current level of communication back then I would’ve loved to have had Michael Golden do the art but had no way of making contact. We take so much for granted since the Internet.
All art was done on art-board. This was the big bad old day of Letraset and Letratone. Rotring pens, India ink and sable brushes. All tools of the trade on Bristol board. 5 months of lettering, pencilling and inking to put a 64-page graphic novel together. I had that down to a page a day complete from blank page to last pen or brush-stroke, working on them 2 at a time.
Fun bit of trivia: I was doing ‘extra’ work on TV and movies at the time for a bit of extra pocket money before starting my career in broadcasting so, while everyone else on the sets were bored shitless waiting for the crew to set up the next shot I was working on Dark Nebula. I got into lots of conversations with stars curious as to what I was putting together – got to know most of the cast of A Country Practice that way.
Back then the only game in town as far as printing and distribution was Hannanprint & Gordon & Gotch. Hannanprint did the crappy black and white DC reprints (with extra-crappy thin covers). When I placed the order with them I insisted on a higher-grade gsm grade for the covers. When it came to printing them the guy on the machine saw it was a comic and went ahead printing it on the standard grade paper. They tried to buy me off with a modest discount to which I said no thanks and so they had to re-do the covers, pulping 10,000 covers in the process. That’s right, 10,000.
Gordon & Gotch, being the monopoly that they were had their ‘take it or leave it’ percentage of 55% of sales just to get it out in the newsagents. Just as well it sold well. The part I was never crazy about was the whole returns thing, whereby unsold books got remaindered and pulped. 25% were destroyed. The returns within NSW were recalled and sent out to New Zealand, so Kiwis got Dark Nebula back then.
Another fun piece of trivia: before I broke ground on the graphic novel The Dark Nebula was pitched as a Sunday comic strip, which nearly happened. Instead they went with the syndicated Judge Dredd.
Once the graphic novel was released the networking started. Jason Paulos, who was 12 at the time, wrote asking all I could tell him about comic production. Despite what I had to share Jason became a creative force to be reckoned with, taking over art chores on Dark Nebula 6 years later while getting Hairbutt the Hippo ready for Aussie comics history.
While Dark Nebula was at the printer, I met Gary Chaloner for the first time and tried to tell him what DN was all about. What was hilarious was that EVERYTHING was at the printer. I didn’t even have a sketch of the character to show him, so imagine trying to sing the praises of this brand new character without artwork. Even though a picture paints a thousand words thankfully it didn’t take that many to explain the concept to him. That’s really where Cyclone started, that night. I brought Glenn Lumsden in not that long after that and Dave de Vries joined us to round out the team. All this after taking that first step…
In truth I just wanted to tell a story that I had brewing in my imagination all through my childhood and teen years, fine-tuned while doing my Diploma of Art at Riverina College of Advanced Education in Wagga (now Charles Sturt University).
Back then there were no word-processors, only type-writers and it wouldn’t be for several years that I began to become acquainted with them so I was writing long-hand. I’d written The Dark Nebula as a full novel, hand-written a year or two before the graphic novel & promptly lost on a train coming back from Wagga one time. Man I hate double-handling, having to re-do stuff but I had to because there was no ‘save’ button back then. Soooooo I had to rewrite the script from memory.
Getting text type made up cost money too but got cheaper the further along we got doing the Cyclone books. Eventually, as computers became more sophisticated, the idea of getting type-setting done became a thing of the past.
Publishing old-school had its share of headaches. When doing the on-going Dark Nebula comic the printer and distributor had their own ideas of how things would run and we had our share of stoushes, especially when it came to their ‘distribution formula’, which they claimed, worked but which effectively cost me sales and money. By the time they began paying attention Dark Nebula #7 and 8 rolled around & became some of the best-selling issues of the run.
I had planned on taking a break for a few months before coming back with #9 and 13 years passed before resuming business as usual. #9 is still on the books… albeit 25+ years on…
Now we live in a world of luxury with our laptops as our word-processors, something art can be done on digitally, type-setting is a matter of choosing from one of over 3,500 fonts stored which take up negligible room.
There was a period when I went away from comics production to focus on my family and career in broadcasting. As one thing or another receded the void beckoned the return to comics production. The timing was right as doing a web-comic appeared to the fore-front after years of false-starts with technology not being quite there. Getting back into the swing of things was made easier with the immeasurable help of Gary Chaloner, who helped me get my website up and running. Many of the things I needed to be brought up to speed on Gary walked and talked me through it, or even the stuff I just couldn’t do Gary was more than happy to make it happen. This was all after a career-ending car accident, which put me out of play as a broadcaster. Learning new skills were challenging, to say the least. Computer-colouring with Photoshop gave the art the polish it was missing. As great as the stuff was in black and white, with colour it was elevated to a whole new level.
Following on from getting the web-comic up and running we looked at releasing the material in prestige edition graphic novels. Thank God for print-on-demand, still relatively in its infancy at the time. Gone were the days of printing 10,000 copies and let the chips fall where they will. Every copy that’s ordered finds a home. When they sell out, order more. We tested the waters with The Dark Nebula Origins and The Southern Cross Special Edition at Sydney Supanova 2007 – the result, a complete sell-out blitz and EVERYONE on Artist Alley wanting to know how it was possible to have books that could sit on a bookshelf along Gotham By Gaslight and the such. I was only all too happy to share what I learned. There’s no percentage in withholding what we learn. Now print-on-demand is so common-place that doing it old-school with a local printer and distributor is a thing of the past and the exception, not the rule. Except with Frew – they rock! It was great setting the trend yet again at the time.
If someone were to tell me 37 years ago that it was not only possible to have my material available in print through print-on-demand, as well as online as a web-comic and through digital apps, I would’ve asked what they were on – and where I could get some.
A part of me wishes the technology was there all that time ago but then I was always one of those people who slogged through the hard times and it’s best to know you worked through it honestly than to have it come easy. Ringo Starr’s It Don’t Come Easy should be the anthem of every creator.
Someone had to come first in the ‘modern’ wave and, in many ways, I’m glad it was me. Although there were many more who did come before, not just those of Australia’s Golden Age of comics, but those who kept the dream alive in the intervening years, like Gerald Carr. It’s just that the release of The Dark Nebula in ’82 has been considered a mile-marker, for want of a better term. When the State Library of Victoria did their Heroes & Villains exhibition with guest curator Kevin Patrick, The Dark Nebula was the centrepiece – an honour I would have thought should have gone to Fatty Finn, Ginger Meggs, Felix The Cat or Air-Hawk and The Flying Doctor. This was while D.N. had been out of the public eye for 13 years by that stage and www.thedarknebula.com was still under construction.
If I had my time again there are many things we have now that I would’ve liked then to make it all easier – but we can all play the ‘woulda coulda shoulda’ game. I’m glad the innovations have come along and made things easier for those that have come since but there has always been a sense of achievement from doing things ‘old school’.
From the moment The Dynamic Dark Nebula hit the stands back in ’82 I started networking and it continues today. The Internet has created a global network of comics’ professionals and those who aspire to be. Many that I look up to are online friends. It’s a sign of the times and a great leveller. Keep your head on your shoulders, the eye on the prize and remain humble, yet confident in your efforts. The words from Field of Dreams keep echoing ‘if you build it, he will come’. Do good work and it’ll happen for you too.