‘Soulfinder: Black Tide,’ ICONIC Comics, and the case for zigging while others zag

It was only a few years ago that your friendly neighborhood writer was regularly critiquing the comic book industry for its unprofessional creators and partisan politics shoehorned into stories. A lot has changed on this blog since then — namely the release of Soulfinder: Demon’s Match and Soulfinder: Black Tide.

Given that, I’d like to share some thoughts on creating comics for anyone who is thinking about taking the plunge.

The indie world is like other endeavors in many ways, in that there are always so-called “experts” who believe they have the definitive roadmap for success. Some creators come from the mainstream industry and charge big bucks for advice. Is it worth it? Overall, the answer appears to be “no.”

First, let us consider some of the advice, both explicit and implicit, floated this way over the years:

  • Avoid politics and religion at all costs.
  • Add “sex appeal.”
  • Creators must have a large YouTube channel or the support of a popular figure on the platform.
  • All roads to success go through Indiegogo and Kickstarter.

Now, let us consider the Soulfinder series of combat veterans-turned-exorcists:

  • Father Retter and Father Crane are Catholic priests; the books do not shy away from religious issues at all.
  • Rosaries are literally sold with Soulfinder books on both the ICONIC Comics and Rugged Rosaries websites.
  • Soulfinder focuses almost exclusively on male characters and arguably has zero “sex appeal.”
  • My YouTube channel is not large by any means. The series has grown by positive word-of-mouth through the grassroots efforts of readers.
  • The Soulfinder: Black Tide launch went directly through ICONIC Comics — http://www.iconiccomics.com — instead of Indiegogo or Kickstarter, and is handily out-pacing the 2019 Soulfinder: Demon’s Match campaign ($33,000) on Indiegogo.

The key to success has far less to do with following a one-size-fits-all blueprint and far more to do with a.) having an objectively good product, b.) creating a clear, concise and personalized definition of success, c.) properly prioritizing important tasks, d.) possessing organizational skills, and e.) having a willingness to take calculated risks.

Readers generally don’t care if politics or religion works its way into stories — provided the author isn’t condescending, rude, or willing to sacrifice good storytelling for partisan (i.e., predictable) propaganda.

Similarly, the man who promotes heroism and virtue in a digital world of vacuous eye candy can do well for himself if he plays his cards right.

One way to stand out from a crowd is to zig while everyone else zags, but doing that requires a certain level of discernment. The more mastery a creator has over smaller and seemingly mundane tasks (e.g., budgeting), the more likely it is that he or she will have an accurate assessment of the “bigger picture” challenges that may be addressed through the aforementioned calculated risks.

If you’re looking to see evidence of this approach in action, then please head to ICONIC Comics and check out Soulfinder: Demon’s Match (2019) and Soulfinder: Black Tide (2021), along with the ongoing Kamen America and Black Hops series by Timothy Lim and Mark Pellegrini.

ICONIC Comics is where you can find creators who are always looking to glean valuable lessons from the successful campaigns of others, yet open to forging their own path when it may be appropriate.

With that said, I’d love to hear your thoughts on creating indie comics. Share your feedback in the comments section below, and please consider spreading the word about Soulfinder if you’ve appreciated the art and storytelling in the first two volumes.

Dan Slott exposed by Tom Brevoort in ‘Marvel 616’ episode: ‘We use the term ‘work’ loosely when it comes to Dan’

Regular readers of this blog know that for years I have said Marvel’s Dan Slott is more of an “idea man” than a writer’s writer. I’ve said that he spends far too much time ranting and raving on social media — or opining on plans that aren’t scheduled to take place for another 100 issues — instead of buckling down and focusing on what needs to be done in the here and now.

Regular readers also know that Mr. Slott has not taken kindly to my critiques of his writing and unprofessional behavior.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Disney+ decided to do a 44-minute Marvel 616 special on Mr. Slott titled “The Marvel Method,” which confirms everything yours truly said about the man’s work ethic over the past decade.

Tom Brevoort, Senior Vice President & Executive Editor for Marvel Comics (who blocked me on Twitter long ago after I asked if it was appropriate for Mr. Slott to tell Christians to move to “Christ-Land”), discusses the problem roughly five minutes into the episode.

An exchange with the writer goes as follows:

Dan Slott: “We’ve been planning this for ages. We’ve been seeding this for a very long time.”

Tom Brevoort: “So I know you’ve got a lot of ideas and very little actually put together. And you need more time to get it done.”

Dan Slott: “I think I could make it better.”

Tom Brevoort: “We use the term ‘work’ loosely when it comes to Dan. Dan’s terrible with his deadlines. You’ll be the famous writer of Iron Man 2022. I’ve worked with Dan for a quarter of a century. And fortunately, he’s good enough at this that those strengths help to counterbalance the fact that he is his own worst enemy when it comes to being able to produce things on the schedule that they need to be done.”

The crux of the episode is that Mr. Slott is the last of a dying breed at Marvel — writers who send a general plot to artists and then fill in the dialogue after seeing the artist’s interpretation of said plot.

Mr. Brevoort’s problem with Dan is that writer’s block, time spent on social media, and other factors habitually cause scheduling headaches and require extra help (e.g., Christos Gage) to get books completed in a timely manner.

“Chris Gage is half of my brain,” Mr. Slott says at one point. “I love plotting stories, but Chris likes scripting. If deadlines are crunching, Chris is gonna get me across.”

Why would deadlines be “crunching” on Mr. Slott? The answer, covered here for years, is because the man has spent inordinate amounts of time going on political rants against [insert Republican politician or policy here].

The lack of self-awareness on Mr. Slott’s part reaches stunning levels when he talks about readers who “lost their minds” over a storyline in 2012 because social media offers “an instantaneous way for you to be mad about anything.”

The writer says:

“One of the things that we have now today, which kinda hurts, is social media. Back in December of 2012, I killed Peter Parker. I was the guy who killed Spider-Man. When that story came out, fans lost their minds. It got scary fast. Social media went insane. That’s what social media is now. It’s an instantaneous way for you to be mad about anything.” — Dan Slott, Disney+, “The Marvel Method,” 2020.

What Mr. Slott doesn’t mention is that Marvel used outrage marketing to sell the books while its writers and editors simultaneously complained about readers who honored their request for anger.

“Dan is behind where I need him to be on his various assignments,” Mr. Brevoort continues as the printing clock for the first issue of Iron Man 2020 closes in. “I can’t really start on issue 2 until issue 1 is solid enough. I needed another writer to do the dialoguing on the book. So we made the choice to bring Christos Gage in.”

The episode rightly notes that using The Marvel Method in many ways makes the artist a de-facto ghost writer, but it fails to stress how strange it is that Mr. Slott, for all intents and purposes, becomes a book’s “Head Plotter” when someone like Mr. Gage is asked to do the heavy lifting on dialogue.

Letterer Joe Caramagna sums up what happens when a book essentially has three writers instead of one:

“Because Dan works in The Marvel Method, I’m usually waiting longer than I am from everyone else. If I have no script, I’m just looking at art and there’s nothing I can do. By the time I get the script from Dan, it’s usually about two days before the book has to go to press. I’m always sending a text or e-mailing, begging and pleading, ‘Someone please send me some script.’ … If my deadline is 6:30 p.m. to deliver a book to the printer, I could still be getting notes at 6:15. Like, that’s how close we cut it.” — Joe Caramagna, Disney+, “The Marvel Method,” 2020.

The question at the heart of the episode seems to be: “Is it worth it? Should ‘The Marvel Method’ go extinct with the eventual departure of Dan Slott?'”

Mr. Brevoort and everyone involved put a happy face on the collaborative efforts. They try their best to act as if the flavor of Slott’s creative sauce is worth the delays and frustration, but it clearly is a sore subject.

The Marvel Method makes it clear that industry icons like Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Jack Kirby were statistical outliers who in many ways acted out of necessity. Few people could walk the tightrope of chaos demanded by the process, and writers in 2020 who are obsessed with politics on social media should embrace a more structured working environment.

Anyone who wants some definitive reasons as to why modern Marvel Comics has gone off the rails over the past decade should watch The Marvel 616 Disney+ episode on “The Marvel Method.” It is extremely telling when an executive editor chuckles and laughs at the consequences of running a “good old boy” network: activist-writers emerge who know they can goof off on social media for days on end because the boss will always bring in an extra person to get the job done.

I don’t expect Mr. Brevoort to unblock your friendly neighborhood blogger anytime soon and apologize for acting as if my observations about Mr. Slott’s unprofessional procrastination were unfounded, but I do appreciate Disney+ vindicating my message. Check it out if you get a chance.