Welcome to the first in what will be a new series of features here at Comic Book Curious! The indie comics community is bursting with talent and full of insightful individuals, with this Creator Spotlight series I’m taking the chance to chat with some of these creators about their influences and work in the industry. For the first of these interviews, I spoke with writer Mario Candelaria. I had a great time discussing the freedom that comes with indie comics, the urge to jot down story ideas before they vanish forever, and more! Check out the full conversation below:
Alex: So how did comics first pop on your radar as something you liked to read, and then how did that evolve into you wanting to actively create them?
Mario: That's a great question with no easy or direct answer. Comics have always been there for me. My first memories of comics I owned were those of cartoons like Count Duckula, Heathcliff, and even an adaption of the Police Academy movies. I was a very young child, so young I couldn't even really read, but I was drawn to the cartoon books.
From there, I went to Spider-Man. I think Eric Larsen's revenge of the Sinister Six run was the first I actually collected and read issue to issue. I took to X-Men almost immediately after that with Jim Lee's relaunch, and have not stopped since.
That was reading, but creating them did not come until much, much later when I was in my twenties and got a wild hair of an idea. It was bad, but it started me down a path I wanted to learn more about.
Alex: I definitely relate to that always being there feeling. Not directly with comics themselves for me, as I didn’t start reading them until I was in my teens, but the characters had always been impactful.
It must have been so awesome to get into the X-Men during that era. How did you begin to expand into the indie side of comics and how has that impacted the sort of stories you’re drawn to creating?
Mario: I had this older guy who worked at my comic shop named Thomas that snuck trades into my bag. Things like Long Halloween and Maus that got me thinking and expanded my mind as to what comics could be.
Don't get me wrong, I love the big monthly superhero stuff - it is mainly what I read on average thanks to the Marvel and DC apps - but most of the time it is something off the beaten path that really sticks with me.
I got really into indie movies when I was a teenager. almost to the point of being a cliche. But it's that same feeling I get reading comics with that vibe - like this is something elevated and raw. works of fiction that tell a deeper truth about the creator.
Alex: That realization that indie comics can offer so much of everything is really moving. I’m the same in a pretty constant consumption of the big superhero stuff, but my favorite series isn’t that.
The ability to get to the heart of what a creator is trying to convey, without any limitations, is incredible. What is your hope for the reader's experience of what you write, and how does that change from project to project, if it does?
Mario: That's a hard question because the end user experience isn't really something I consider until much later like maybe in the thumbnail process.
After I get an idea that sticks with me for a day or two, I start to think visually in terms of shots and pacing, like how something could look or a mood that I want to express throughout a scene. Then from there, I work on dialogue in a way that builds and builds.
I don't think about how others would receive the story until I nervously send it to someone else to read. It is cathartic at times to express myself this way, but that feeling comes much much later after we get past the layers of production mode followed by nervous anticipation.
Alex: That’s awesome that each idea is just wholly something you’re passionate about and comes only from your own influence.
It’s heartening to hear someone express part of their writing process similar to what I do. I have to have a general idea of how a page or sequence will look before getting into the nitty gritty of it.
Sometimes I’ll get specific lines or moments that I know will be used, and then build around that. How fully formed do your ideas generally come, and how do you build them from there? For example, I struggle tremendously trying to write a story I don’t know the exact ending for, but I know that’s the only way some writers operate.
Mario: Every idea is different. Like Fog Line was rare for me because it came to me as a whole story, or what at the time I thought was a whole story, during thanksgiving dinner. I checked out from the family conversations as I was pulled into my phone getting down everything I could before I lost it.
But other times it is a process of evolution. We start with a seed that gets planted and as it gestates in my mind I think of all the ways we can go with it. if an idea lingers for a day or two, I try to start working on it and refining it to see if it is worth continuing or if it'll remain just another half idea in my notes app.
I love not knowing where the ending is sometimes. The characters take me for a ride as my mind works out who they are and how they would respond to certain stimuli, and how those reactions would clash with one another. I am a champion of the three-act skeleton, but sometimes I freestyle that shit.
Alex: Are you ever in a pinch to take a quick note about an idea, and use a shorthand thinking you’ll definitely remember it later only to completely forget, or is that just me?
Freestyle is pretty much always a good time. How hard is it to decide when an idea isn’t worth trying to explore or fit into a story?
Mario: Oh yeah I forget stuff all the time! If I don't get back to it immediately to expand or elaborate, there's a chance I won't.
I don't like to let an idea die if I put some real effort into it, so I try to cannibalize ideas or moments for other things down the line. Like my upcoming Scout comic Killchella for example. That was originally a completely different story with elements of mythology from the American west. But it did not work at all, so I put it on the shelf until a new version hit me a year or two later. A good idea is always worth salvaging in one form or another if you can finesse it.
Alex: Glad it’s not just me! That’s great to hear and I think a fantastic point. So many ideas are malleable and sometimes just need the right inspiration that’ll come down the line to make it click into place.
Speaking about some of your work, what is it about horror that you enjoy writing? I used to not consider myself a horror fan, but when I stopped to think about it I realized how many different horror things I loved, and the genre has become even more compelling to me since.
Mario: Like you, I wasn't really much of a horror guy. I was always into big action movies or mumblecore slice-of-life features. Horror always seemed to be something I passed by, and for no real reason that I can place my finger on.
But when an idea hits you are not always in control of how it presents itself, so here we are ha ha ha.
But in all seriousness, it is something I have dove into more and more over the last four-ish years. I think having an AMC A-List subscription helps since I can go see more movies without worrying about the budget, and those experiences lead me to enjoy the genre more which always finds their way back to comics like Killadelphia and Something is Killing the Children. Basically if the word "Kill" is in it, I am in (shout out Kill or be Killed).
Alex: Having an idea bring you to a genre is so rad. I can’t think of a time that’s happened to me, it’s normally the opposite. AMC A-List is so clutch, and Something is Killing the Children is SO GOOD. You should check out Redfork from TKO if you haven’t. Their publishing model is something I hope becomes more popular in the comics space.
What has your experience with the backend of comic creation, the publishing process?
Mario: I'll have to check it out.
It's no secret pitching is my least favorite part of the process. To have something and then send it out to a select few to look at and determine if it is worthy or not for them to put up for sale is the worst, doubly so if no one ever responds.
But the publishers I have worked with have been nice. It's good to have a machine behind you, even a smaller end one since it's a force multiplier of interested people who have as much to gain from your success as you do.
Kickstarter changed the game and is great for reaching audiences together. I see creators like Charlie Stickney and Pat Shand who consistently bring in more than people make in a year on some of their books, and it's all under their own gumption. Alex Di Campi is another inspiration of mine. Someone who went out there and built a following without sacrificing who they are.
I love working with publishers, but this shit is expensive if collaborators want money upfront. If I can kickstart something to get the work done and then sell it down the road to an interested publisher who can help promote it to a wider audience I might not have access to on my own, then for me that's just awesome.
Alex: Pitching is ridiculous nerve-wracking but as you said having that extra force behind you is a huge bonus.
I love how consistently I see a successful “to the finish line” push on Kickstarter projects. Of course, not all books get there, but it’s heartening to see that so many of the community just want to see everyone else succeed as well. That last route you mentioned I think is definitely the dream.
What format of comics do you prefer when it comes to length and release? Would you ever want to do the month-to-month superhero book grind, or are one-shots, minis, or large graphic novels more your speed?
Mario: I long for the day where I am a "funded on day one" creator. Must be nice.
I have no preference, to be honest. The format and length are really just a prompt against which I will try to morph the story to. Each has its own merits. A month-to-month will be more exciting with end-of-issue cliffhangers, whereas a big book can be more methodical in the approach leading to the big finish.
I have a book coming to Kickstarter around Labor Day that started out as a big graphic novel, but I decided to split it in two for budgetary reasons. Thankfully the middle point had what felt like an exciting point to both stop and resume on, but I made some more modifications to make it feel like a new episode would if there's a time gap between readings.
Alex: I think I’m mostly in the same boat on those points. Even the longer format ideas I have I tend to break down into chapters or parts, so they could easily be turned into single smaller issues if needed.
Speaking of books you have coming out soon, what upcoming releases do you have and how can people support them?
Mario: I live for the day someone says one of my stories could've just been a tweet [laughs].
Yeah, So I have Killchella from Scout comics hitting comic shops in the fall. It's a fun four-issue slasher set at a super popular music festival I cannot legally name. I am very excited about this one and have been getting great feedback from early readers.
I also have the first part of a two-part graphic novel coming to Kickstarter called One True Love. It's a slow-burn story about two mobsters in the afterglow of a heist, hiding out in Los Angeles.
I have stories coming in the Purple Eyes anthology with Roberto Duque, and in the second volume of Producing the End with J. Schiek.
There are lots of irons in the fire, but those are the four I can confidently speak on at the moment.
Alex: Those all sound great for a variety of reasons! I’m looking forward to checking them out and can’t wait to hear more about the other irons in the fire.