Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Never Underestimate the Power of a Great Cookie

Welcome back to the Conversation!  Today I am rejoined by Vera Greentea and her accomplice Allison Strom who have come to talk about their latest Kickstarter Recipes for the Dead Issue 3.  Thank you for coming back Vera, and welcome Allison to your first visit to the conversation.  

Vera: Thanks so much for inviting us!
Allison: Thanks so much, Hi there!

Lets start with the basics, can you tell us a bit about the Recipes for the Dead series?  

Vera: Recipes for the Dead is an adventurous fantasy romp of an ambitious young pastry chef whose bakery is about to go bankrupt. In a desperate effort to save RocoCookie Shop, she steals a cookbook that seems to have the perfect recipes for bringing in customers. However, the book does a little more than offer instructions for cookies – it also seems to attract unsavory and rather demonic characters. Recipes for the Dead has a bit of everything; action, humor, a bit of horror and romance.

Now for full disclosure I am a backer on this project because the story sounded fun and the art was gorgeous.  Who do I get to thank for each of those things?  

Vera: Thanks, James! We love having you on board! Even though I’m the writer of Recipes for the Dead, Allison and I share many creative decisions on the flow of the storytelling. But, yeah, that art – that is all her. Allison does it all; the layouts and pencils, the incredibly radiant coloring that shines right out of the page, the imaginative character and Victorianpunk fashion design. She is amazing to work with – her brain concocts the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen on a comic book page.

Allison: The art for recipes is a bit of a mix! I’m the only person currently drawing and coloring, but a lot of the character designs and aesthetics were begun by Recipes’ first artist, Ein Lee, back in Dark Delight with Cranberries. I’ve tried especially in the latest issue to synch a little better with the look and feel of the first volume. It’s been a huge challenge, but I’m so happy with how far it’s come since my first crack at the series in Apricot Asylum. I’m still really new to drawing comics and get very overwhelmed by the workload sometimes. It’s a constant learning process.
Recipes for the Dead: Apricot Asylum (Issue 2), cover by Allison Strom
The campaign describes the series as “Victorianpunk-manga-ish comic” where did you get that description for the comic?  Were you trying to be descriptive without being pigeonholed?  

Vera: The hardest thing about describing this comic in shorthand is trying to align it with a style. That phrase I chose hopefully gives people a bit of a visual impression of what the comic might be about. I consider Recipes for the Dead to be born and heavily influenced by the aesthetics and content of manga – but it’s not exactly that. There’s so much westernized culture imbued into it because that’s what I grew up with. It’s a broad mix of silly action-adventure, Burtonesque romance a la The Corpse Bride, and all kinds of fun oddities that struck my fancy.
Artistically, RftD has Victorian elements mixed into its visuals, but I wouldn’t go as far as calling it steampunk. There are no airships or any kind of focus on machinery (or that cowboy impression you get when one reads steampunk novels). Allison seized on the idea of Victorianpunk and then gave it a baroque streak, interweaving shimmering brass curls into the buildings of Bluerouen or adding tiny ornate gold details into the clothing of the characters - inevitably giving the comic a visual language that is a deep blend of many older traditions but still comes out being its own thing.

Food with “unusual properties” is an interesting concept.  Where did you come up with the idea?

Vera: I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m a foodie, but boy, do I love food. I love baking interesting new recipes, and ordering things I’ve never had before in restaurants. I experiment mostly with pastries (I recently made my own macarons), and I also enjoy mixing cocktails. This summer, I’ve been concentrating on shrubs (which is a colonial-era acidulated fruit syrup to then be mixed with bourbon or gin). Even without magic, different foods have exciting properties that promote health, or act as aphrodisiacs, or just bring surprising tastes. To me, the next step of magic felt very probable.
So, of course, a lot of the time I find myself looking up recipes online, and one day I just thought how interesting it is that I choose a recipe off the net and just make it, without any regard for the unknown inventor of the recipe. What if their intent was less than good? What if the delicious-sounding instructions are really just a spell for disaster? It was a fun concept for me to play with and that was the last step right before Recipes for the Dead was born.

Allison's First Sketches of Veronica, Twist and Elliot
As a backer I have to admit it was nice of you to include the first issue to read right away and the second one available when the campaign concludes.  Though I have to say having to wait another 24 days or so is just plain mean! I mean you left the first issue off on such a fun note I wanted more.  Well played.  How long after your campaign ends do you figure it’ll be before we can get the third issue?  What other delights do you have at Greentea Publishing that folks can purchase in the interim?  

Vera: You’re so kind! I’m really happy that you enjoyed it! Of course, that was part of my diabolical plan…
Luckily for you, we are basically finished with the art of Issue 3. Other than the cover and lettering, the comic is done so there’s not much left to do! I plan to email it within the first couple of weeks of the campaign’s end.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for more Greentea Publishing books in a similar vein, please feel welcome to check out our site. We have the first two issues of a creepy (but kid-friendly) Day of the Dead miniseries called NENETL OF THE FORGOTTEN SPIRITS. (ED: We talked about it last time.) Which is a Burton-esque parade of cheer and fear, as the young ghost girl Nena has a single day to find her living family while evading exorcists chasing after her.
We also have PAPA, a more mature dark fantasy anthology where each story features the sinister effects fathers can have on their kids. (And by the way, it’s rated mature because of the children’s fates in the stories, which are a bit ominous). Some of our other books with darker content are Ben Jelter’s THE TUMOR, which is a unique concept story of a lonely man who falls in love with the first woman he meets – who just happens to have popped out of a growing mole on his neck.

Let me turn over to Allison for this question.  The first RftD issue was drawn by Ein Lee, but 2 and now 3 are being drawn by you, what got you involved in the series?  Was there anything special about this project that made you want to come back for the third one?  

Allison: I love comics, and have successfully completed… 0 of my own. Once I did get to work with another writer on a piece for a fantasy anthology, called Song from the Gully. It was a short piece and it was really fun. But I never got very far in making comics under my own steam, past a few pilot pages or school related pieces that promised way more than I felt capable of delivering.
So when Vera first approached me about this project I was actually really thrown off since I didn’t think I presented well as a comic book artist to begin with! There’s so much love and care in this project, the story is really fun, and I felt like I could learn more about making comics if I actually worked on them with more really talented, awesome people.

Where else can folks find your work Allison?  

Allison: I still have work up on my old Deviantart page, at Shirotsuki.deviantart.com. I don’t update it very often anymore, but it has years of just.. art and process and growing pains out where everybody can see it if they want. I treat my Tumblr a lot better, it gets a lot of in progress sketches and sneak peeks. That’s over on alliebirdseed.tumblr.com. I have a portfolio website as well, alliestrom.squarespace.com.

RocoCookie Shop Poster Super Limited Edition
Now Vera you’ve become quite the “old hand” at Kickstarter with six successful Kickstarters under your belt including your previous appearance here in the Conversation.  You have come up with a winning strategy for your projects, would you care to share your secrets?

Vera: Ha, my gosh, I don’t know if I have any secrets!
Okay, here’s something, I think. This is ridiculously cheesy and not really a secret, but my “secret” is being truly passionate not just about the project, but also the fans. I truly love them. I love knowing that so many come back for every project, even if it’s starkly different from the one prior to it. I try to reward them (and myself) by being accessible for their questions, by being open to their suggestions for Kickstarter rewards or taking polls, by letting them motivate me into creating fun projects. I truly think that’s what keeps my campaigns going – a happy creator doing her best to keep the backers happy as well.

How have you been managing your fans through all these projects?  

Vera: I try very hard to anticipate needs and to be as accessible as possible to anyone who has a question or a problem. But it’s been nice so far, I find my particular group a really polite and generous bunch, and am happy to interact with them.  

Veronica's glorious portraits by Allison Strom
I’ve found it very informative and helpful for a Kickstarter project to post some kind of budget breakdown, or at least some kind of explanation for where the funds are going.  I notice you do have a small paragraph explaining that most of the money goes to paying Allison, the letterer and printer (who are these folks?), and of course Kickstarter and shipping fees.  My question when it comes to budget is just a question of how many comics are you printing?  Are you planning on just fulfilling Kickstarter orders or is this for a minimum run of like 100 comics that you can take with you to the, hopefully stretch goal reached, New York Comic Con?

Vera: I tend to build my budget around my artist, letterer and production needs. My consistent goal is to pay my artist at a page rate of at least market value. I also give raises if I make more on the project than initially projected. Hooray, Greentea Publishing! The other part of my creative team to be paid is the letterer, the talented Adam Wollet, who has become my go-to person for the job. His work is inimitable, and I love having him on the team.
The rest of the money goes to production. You hit it on the nose, James, I tend to print the amount of KS orders that need to be fulfilled + 100 books, which I later take to a convention or sell on the Greentea Publishing website.  Whatever money is left gets used to pay shipping fees, but much of the time, I end up offsetting that particular cost with money out of my own pocket.
This particular Kickstarter is the first time we’ve hit the goal so fast. I’m excited because I’m hoping that it might mean that shipping might be paid, and in fact, there might be something leftover to bring Greentea Publishing to more conventions. We hope to do Baltimore Comic Con this year, and between hotel costs, gas fees and food, it’s usually an impossibility – but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this campaign will take us over there!

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?   

Vera: I’ve been lucky that Recipes for the Dead captured some lovely media attention, and fantastic articles have popped up on a bunch of comic journal and geek sites (and this one, of course)! For my own promotion blurbing, I also use Twitter (@ladygreentea) and Facebook. That’s about it, really. A lot of it is word-of-mouth.

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

Vera: We just updated greenteapublishing.com to have digital editions of all Greentea comics, including Recipes Issues 1 and 2, so I hope you guys check that out!

Allison: Get back to work!!! No, actually thanks so much, and I hope you take some time and check out Recipes for the Dead.

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

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