by Gl….Erica Heflin
Area 51. Conspiracy. Storage Units. Humor. The sci-fi/comedy comic book series UNIT 44 explores what happens when inept Area 51 employees forget to pay the rent on the facility’s off-site storage unit, and the super-secret contents are sold at public auction? When an alien invasion threatens the safety of planet Earth, Agents Gibson and Hatch must recover an item from the locker if they hope to stop the extraterrestrial threat.
UNIT 44 – Now live on Kickstarter – http://kck.st/UcqcIr
QUESTIONS!!! AND ANSWERS!
GH: Can you tell me about the moment you were inspired to write Unit 44? Why is this a story you wanted to tell? 3
WL: The idea for UNIT 44 hit me when I was watching the A&E television show STORAGE WARS, which follows people who make a living by purchasing unpaid storage units and then attempting to sell the contents for a profit. The must purchase the unit with very little idea of the contents, and that made me think, “what would be the ultimate find inside a storage unit?” I’ve always had a fascination with Area 51 legends so it just made sense to combine the two. The idea hit so fast that I actually turned off the television and began writing. Come to think of it, I don’t know that I ever went back and finished the episode.
I’ve always wanted to write a comic book that was actually humorous, so this idea seemed like the perfect time and place to give it a shot.
GH: What is the appeal of the two lead characters?
WL: Agents Gibson and Hatch play off of many of the secret government tropes that readers will be familiar with, but neither character takes themselves too seriously. What I believe makes the agents so appealing is that readers will connect with one or the other based on what they find funny. This allowed me to play with multiple styles of humor–while Agent Gibson has a dry and sarcastic style of hilarity that’s very self-aware, Hatch’s goofiness comes from more of the slapstick side and he never realizes that he’s being funny. Every other character brought into the mix brings an additional style. By the time the full cast is introduced, I really think there’s something for everyone.
GH: Unit 44 is a comedic story. Can you tell us about the type of comedy to expect and executing comedy in the comic medium?
WL: Comedy in comic book form is difficult. Perhaps that challenge was part of the appeal. The jokes really have to be written tightly and clearly so they can be interpreted by the artist and there were times where balancing constant jokes with a clear plot and character arcs proved to be a feat in itself. When I write I always expect to kill a few darlings here and there, so that required me to come up with twice as many gags so that the finished product was guaranteed to be funny. I promised myself to deliver at least one laugh per page, and I feel confident I delivered.
GH: You previously ran two kickstarters for issue 1. Can you tell us what you learned from the initial failed attempt to fund the book, and the success of the second run?
WL: The first time out, series artist Eduardo Jiménez and I attempted to fund an 88-page graphic novel. We had a great showing of support, but we didn’t have the fan base to meet the hefty goal we wanted. Rather than run away in defeat, we relaunched and funded the first issue in three days. This allowed us to put together a “proof of concept” that we could show around to potential publishers to see if anyone would jump behind a book that was a little bit “out there.” This eventually linked us up with our publisher, Alterna Comics.
The biggest lesson learned is that even if you can’t fund an entire project, Kickstarter is a viable resource for getting the ball rolling in some capacity. Producing a full first issue was 22 more pages than we had when we started and I was thrilled with the feedback we received from publishers, even those who passed on the series. No harm, no foul!
GH: How do you approach reward fulfillment on kickstarter?
WL: It’s a lot of sitting in a room, surrounded by books wondering why you ever did it to yourself. Hah! Just kidding. Reward fulfillment was more of a time consuming process than anything else. It’s exciting to package your product and send copies of a silly comic book all over the world. Unfortunately, I’m awful at math, so I short of short-changed myself on raising adequate money for shipping (plus is costs approximately $1 billion dollars to ship something to Australia) so we ended up going into the red from our successful campaign last year.
GH: Why focus on a digital format for Unit 44?
WL: Once complete, the four-issue miniseries will be released by Alterna as a digital-first initiative. The issues will be available through ComiXology and several other online retailers, with only a physical trade paperback collecting all the issues being solicited through Diamond. To me, that just makes sense. Printing physical issues isn’t always a financially smart decision for up-and-coming creators as it’s incredibly hard to turn a profit. You either make your book affordable for the reader, or you make money, but you (unfortunately) can’t have both. I think it’s important that we embrace new technologies and we have more people embracing digital comics each and every day.
For our current Kickstarter, we’re only offering digital rewards. By not having to factor in printing and shipping we were able to bring our goal down to an insanely low number. After all, the Kickstarter platform was created to help creators get a project off the ground, and when I support others, I don’t necessarily focus so much on what may or may not arrive in my mailbox. Would I love to send everyone goodies? Absolutely, but the whole goal of the crowdfunding campaign is to get the comic done.
GH: Kickstarter is notorious for having a slow middle donation period. How do you overcome that slump and continue to get word out?
WL: Since we went into this campaign with a first issue already complete, I was able to send a preview copy to many review and news sites. If someone’s able to read the book and see what Ed and I are going for, the chances of them putting it online if they like it increase significantly. If someone doesn’t like it, no worries, but the feedback we’ve seen online has been fantastic and even just collecting those media spots and quotes will be invaluable for our project regardless of the outcome of this campaign. We’re completely awestruck each time someone backs us up. Ed and I love this comic and we just want to share it with people who love to laugh.
GH: Finally, for fans of the humor and action of Unit 44, what other comics should we be reading?
WL: After writing a comedy comic, I have have so much respect for those other creative teams who can make me laugh. Here’s a quick list of comics that I highly recommend. If readers are already a fan of these books, UNIT 44 will be right up their alley. 1. Bravest Warriors by Joey Comeau and Mike Holmes (BOOM!) 2. D4VE by Ryan Ferrier and Valentin Ramon (Monkeybrain) 3. Edison Rex by Chris Roberson and Dennis Culver (Monkeybrain) 4. Knuckleheads by Brian Winkeler and Robert Wilson (Monkeybrain) 5. Deadhorse by Eric Grissom and Phil Sloan (Frankenstein’s Daughter Press)
Comic book writer Wes Locher is the son of an English teacher mother and a journalist father. He was fated to a life of writing before he could consciously make the decision for himself. His acceptance of this destiny began in eighth grade when he won an award for a short story he’d penned. Since then, he has gotten much better at his craft having his comic work published by Alterna Comics, Markosia Enterprises, Arcana Studio and GrayHaven Comics.