INDIE SPOTLIGHT ON FORREST HELVIE

 

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This week’s Indie Spotlight features Forrest Helvie, a comic reviewer and creator who is in the process of launching his first full length story, Whiz Bang Vol 1.

 

GH: Forrest you’ve reviewed comics and done some short stories before. What made you want to take on the challenge of putting out a book yourself?

Forrest Helvie: First off, I got my start writing comics with You Are Not Alone vol. 1, so I have to thank you, Marc and the rest of the team at GrayHaven for giving me my first break in comics. Writing for GrayHaven was and continues to be a really rewarding experience, and it’s given an entirely new appreciation for the medium I love.

And in many regards, that’s what led me to explore the idea of writing comics myself as opposed to writing about comics – whether that was through academic venues or for mainstream audiences with sites like Sequart, Newsarama, or Marvel.com. Although I enjoy doing reviews, editorials, interviews, or more critical pieces about the medium, there’s something entirely different – and special – about creating a story in which others can immerse themselves.

Like many writers, I wanted to challenge myself and see what I could do. When the opportunity to write comics of my own came up, I couldn’t pass up the chance of a life time.

GH: What can you tell our readers about Fuzzy Belly Books?

FH: Fuzzy Belly Books is an imprint of Under Belly Comics out of Canada. Until now, Fuzzy Belly has only published children’s books. With THE ADVENTURES OF WHIZ BANG: THE BOY ROBOT, however, they are testing the waters of children’s comics.

GH: Whiz Bang Vol 1, the comic you’ve written is an unabashed love letter to comics like Calvin and Hobbes and Pixar type movies…those aimed at younger readers that can be appreciated by adults as well. Was there a particular reason you geared this towards young readers?

FH: That’s exactly right, Drew. As a kid, I devoured Calvin and Hobbes. For my money, that’s the bar from which so many other all-ages comics are compared. It’s smart and poignant, and yet, it also captures the fun and imagination of childhood.

Likewise, I think Pixar has stepped in and set a new bar for storytelling with its approach to storytelling. Wall-E is one of those movies that just blows me away. Hardly a dozen words are uttered between the two main characters in the first half hour, and yet, we see this compelling narrative come together that children of any age can follow. To me, that is how you reach a younger audience: Develop characters whose actions, emotions, and challenges are clearly discernible and relatable without having to spoon feed the audience.

I should also add that there’s a very personal reason that I am writing to this audience as I have two children who are very much the target audience for THE AUDIENCE OF WHIZ BANG. There’s really nothing like writing a story and then putting it into your children’s hands and watch them laugh as they read along.

GH: As someone who has written about the industry for a long time and knows how ‘all ages’ titles can be a somewhat difficult sell was there any trepidation in not skewing towards an older audience?

FH: I’d take this one step further, Drew, and argue it’s even more difficult to write for an early reader audience. Too often, we see ‘All-Ages’ applied to everyone, but that’s not actually accurate. Children who are just learning to read are often going to be overwhelmed with the language demands of what we see as a convention “All-Ages” comic. Additionally, the storytelling may not be the most straight-forward, which proves equally difficult for kids who are just learning the basics of moving their eyes from top to bottom, left to right.

So, I know that many other first-time creators probably have more success in writing for a wider audience, I firmly believe we need to have more comics out there for our younger readers. How many times have those of us with kids gone to the our local stores and struggled to find something age-appropriate for our kids to take home? It’s tough to share our love for comics when there isn’t much for them to read that they’ll actually be able to read!

That’s where I think WHIZ BANG fills a need.

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GH: Michelle has given a wonderful and distinct look to Whiz and Amelia. Where did you discover her work and how did you two decide to pair up for this?

FH: Michelle’s pretty awesome, isn’t she?! Originally, I wrote some short stories about a boy robot for an anthology that never took off just two months after completing my work for YANA 1. But I loved the experience of writing comics, and I believed these stories had something “special” to them.

I went online to a comic creator job board and posted an ad, and after looking at some concept sketches from people, I wasn’t sure where to go next. Then, Michelle sent me a single pin-up, and I knew then and there that she was the one to bring these characters to life. We quickly began working on these shorts, and as I saw the way she injected a sense of life and vibrancy into the characters, I knew there was more I wanted to explore in this world. As a result, I ended up working on creating a single, long-form story.

I also want to point out that when you read Whiz Bang, it’s not just Michelle’s line work that you’re seeing here, but she’s also doing the colors and lettering! This book is very much a testament to her abilities as a visual storyteller, and I hope people really enjoy what she’s done here.

GH: One of your reward incentives is a visit to a local school or library to talk about the book. Is there a conscious effort to get the book into the hands of schools and libraries more than say a comic shop?

FH: I’m a teacher. I hear many people say ‘I am not my job,’ but in many regards, being a teacher is very much a part of who I am. Moreover, I’m an English professor and the classes I teach are geared towards students who struggle with the basics of reading and writing.

I’ve come to realize that one of the most important gifts we can give our kids is a love for reading. The effects it will have on these growing minds later in life are unreal. The statistics are readily available, but the success rates in life for readers versus that of non-readers is both drastic and … depressing.

So, yes. I want to go to where the kids are and get them reading something they’ll enjoy. Comics have this amazing power to disarm people – even college students! It’s not “real” work, so the barrier to motivating them to read their book is far lower. And once they find they can read something, understand it, and enjoy it, the likelihood of reading more is that much greater.

If going to local schools and preaching the four-colored gospel of literacy helps, then count me in. And the same goes for local comic stores, too! I can think of some shops that make an strong effort toward reaching out to readers of all ages in the comics they stock and the activities they’ll offer. That’s the model, I think, that will help bridge new and young readers into becoming the next generation of comic fans.

GH: Is this the first time you’ve attempted to do a crowd-funding campaign on your own? Any enlightening experiences?

FH: I have to say that I am fortunate in that Fuzzy Belly put the kickstarter together for THE ADVENTURES OF WHIZ BANG, and they’ll also be handling the printing and shipping ends of the campaign. They use crowdsourcing as their method for pre-ordering with their main line of comics at Under Belly Comics, so it’s good to know someone with prior successes and experience at managing a crowdsourcing campaign is there to help.

In terms of marketing the comic though, it’s been a lot of work. Over the years, I’ve had dozens – even more perhaps? – of comic creators reach out to me for coverage for their upcoming comics. In my time at Sequart and Newsarama, I’ve tried to help shine a spotlight on these indie creators where I can, and I’m proud of the number of kickstarters I’ve been able to support through media coverage.

But with the shoe on the other foot, I can tell you first hand that it takes an amazing amount of work to make your voice heard above the white noise all the while not turning into that creator who pesters for attention. The best suggestion I would give to others taking their comic to Kickstarter for funding is start letting people know a few weeks in advance so you can start making a marketing plan ahead of time. Once the kickstarter begins, it’s important to keep the word rolling out about your comic so you don’t get lost in the crowd.

GH: You mention in the Kickstarter that there are more ideas for Whiz Bang and Amelia. How far along have you thought the stories out?

FH: I can’t get too far into things, but I’ll say that Michelle has already finished the first seven pages of the second volume, I’m putting some finishing touches on the end of the second book, and the outline for the third volume is already complete. Can you tell we’re moving full steam ahead?

And yes, there are other things in the works as well…

GH: I know you’ve backed many projects yourself in the past so I’m hoping good karma comes your way in the final days of this campaign but is there a contingency plan if the funding goal isn’t met?

FH: I’m a big believer that you need to pay it forward. It would be pretty odd for me to go to kickstarter with a comic and not having supported others in their efforts. I love comics. I write about them, I teach them, I write them, and I support them.

Now, we’re only about $85.00 (USD) from hitting our goal, so we should be able to reach our goal. But can I be honest? I’d like to show people that comics like this have a place in our four-colored world.

Here’s the thing: The comic is done. Michelle and I wrapped production of the interiors in July, so there is no risk the book will be delayed due to either of us needing to finish it. And in truth, we’re not making a dime on this comic. The modest goal we set here is going to cover productions costs and that’s it. What’s important, then, is that we can end this campaign on a high note and get it into the hands of as many children as possible.

And if the demand is strong enough, then you can bet you’ll see more of Whiz Bang and Amelia the Adventure Bear in the near future!

GH: You’re less than $100 away from goal with a few days left. What stretch goals are you thinking of should you get 100% funding before the deadline?

FH: Our stretch goals are modest, Drew, as we’re really focusing on delivering the best possible product to our pint-sized audience. But here’s what we have so far:

  • $1,500 USD: Every print copy will be signed by the author (Forrest C. Helvie).
  • $1,850 USD: Every print copy will be signed and personalized to either yourself or a person / organization of your choice.
  • $2,000 USD: NEW STORY! If we can raise over $2,000, we will add an additional full colored short story to volume 1 putting our total page count at or over 50 pages!

We also have a fourth stretch goal that has yet to be announced, but should we get past the $2,000 mark, I’ll just say that not only will we add another story, but we’ll be looking at the possibility of upgrading to a hardcover, which would be great.

GH: Lightning Round

  1. Best Comic being published right now

FH: THE ADVENTURES OF WHIZ BANG: THE BOY ROBOT!!! J

I have to give a nod to G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona’s Ms. Marvel, which has been absolutely stellar from the get-go, and I’ve been pretty wild about Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen’s Descender. It’s tough though as there are just SO many amazing comics out there today.

  1. Best Comic being published no one knows about

FH: Tough call. I’m depressed Mice Templar came to an end as that was one of my absolute favorites. Absolutely underrated. I think people are starting to pick up on Ryan K. Lindsay and Own Giani’s Negative Space from Dark Horse is something really special that’s just taking off.

  1. Will Trump be the GOP Presidential nominee?

FH: I doubt it though it depresses me that the campaign is in full swing, and we’re still WELL over a year from the election itself …

  1. Which Halloween costume will you see the most of at your door this year?

FH: I recently moved, so I’m not sure. I do know I will be seeing an astronaut and Batman most frequently as that’s what my two little guys will dressed up as this year!

  1. 2016 Box Office Winner- Civil War or Batman v Superman

FH: Not even a question: Civil War nine times over and twice on Sunday.

  1. Fuller House, Twiner Peaks, Xer Files…which old tv show needs to be brought back?

FH: Ohhhh…. Here’s where I get in trouble. None? Between being a dad, teaching, and my various writing projects, I rarely get to watch television. I will say this: Netflix blew my mind with the new Daredevil series. I’m pretty much on board for anything Marvel and Netflix want to produce.

GH: Do you have any other projects in the pipeline we should know about?

FH: I’m pretty excited about the upcoming issue of GrayHaven’s Hey Kids! Robots issue, as my son Noah and I worked together on a story he loved telling me while I drove him to kindergarten last year.

And, of course, there’s the second volume of THE ADVENTURES OF WHIZ BANG in the works, which Michelle and I are hoping to finish up in the winter or early spring of 2016.

Thanks Forrest, and good luck.

Please check out the Kickstart campaign for Whiz Bang Vol 1 and help them hit their goal!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2140811709/whiz-bang-vol1

 

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