You might not have realized it at the time, but if you’ve read Avengers A.I., Five Ghosts or just about any issue of a Monkeybrain comic, you’ve seen the work of Dylan Todd. As a designer, Todd has touched a lot of comics, from the recap pages in Avengers A.I. to the logos for Monkeybrain Comics, White Suits, Five Ghosts and Sovereign, to name a few.
Now Todd has teamed with a bunch of writers and artists to create 2299, an anthology of 11 stories set in the far future — 2299, to be exact. ROBOT 6 spoke with Todd about the project, which you can download now for $2 from Gumroad.
ROBOT 6: I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that, because you’ve put together an anthology of futuristic science fiction stories, you’re probably a fan of futuristic science fiction stories. What are some of your favorites, comics or otherwise?
Dylan Todd: I was born in ’77, a few months before Star Wars came out, so I’m of the generation that grew up in the shadows of those films and all the weird genre stuff that came out because of it: the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, the Buck Rogers TV show, Tron, He-Man, Buckaroo Banzai, all that sort of stuff. Which, eventually, led to comics.
As far as my favorite sci-fi stories go, Frank Herbert’s Dune is huge, Kubrick’s 2001 as well as Arthur C. Clarke’s book series that spun out from there. The Planet of the Apes movies, Blade Runner. Seeing a taped-from-HBO videocassette of James Cameron’s Aliens at a friend’s house when I was in middle school was a game-changer. Ridley Scott’s Alien is good and all, but man, Space Marines versus acid-blooded xenomorphs was my jam.
Comics-wise, Akira, obviously. Kirby’s 2001/Kamandi/OMAC sci-fi triple-play. Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg! which does not get praised enough. Paul Pope’s 100%. Brandon Graham’s King City as well as his work on Prophet with basically every great artist working today. Gerry Finley-Day/Dave Gibbons/etc’s Rogue Trooper. Makoto Yukimura Planetes. Frank Miller’s Ronin. I really liked the first arc of Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood’s The Fuse, which is basically Law & Order on a satellite. I’ve only been reading regularly for the last few years, but 2000 AD and their “anything goes as long as it’s interesting”-type anthology is obviously a huge inspiration for 2299.
I’m sure I’ll think of a ton more in five minutes, but that’s a good start.
So how did you go about deciding to do an anthology and recruiting creators to contribute to it? Did you know most of the people who contributed before you reached out to them?
I put out a general call on my Tumblr and Twitter and got a good response, enough to fill one volume, and then some. Most of the people were from my circle of Internet friends, so I knew them, though I had a couple people who were new to me that worked out wonderfully.
How much and what kind of guidance did you give the creative teams before they started their stories, beyond the general “the year 2299” theme?
I had everybody send me a pitch before they got started to make sure there’s wasn’t a huge overlap in stories and then just sort of let everybody sort of do their thing. The “editor” credit is probably not 100-percent accurate. It should probably be “facilitator” or “compiler” or, (ugh) “curator,” but that doesn’t sound as fancy. I had a couple submissions that didn’t work out and I had to cut them, which was a bummer, but that’s par for the course with these sorts of projects.
The stories are tied together by the theme, but artistically it’s been interpreted in a lot of different ways. Were there any that surprised you when you received them?
I think the overwhelming Hypercolor-ish coloring on a lot of the stories was the most pleasant surprise. Bring me this vibrant, poppy future, please. More neon, please.
What was your approach, design-wise, to 2299?
I wanted something clean, vibrant and adaptable. We were handling a bunch of different styles and approaches, so it needed to be able to live on something like Robert Wilson IV’s beautiful cover illustration, or in front of Caleb Goellner’s mermaid story, or Josh Trujillo’s Elder story, or in promo materials, etc.
Basically, I just wanted it to look cool. (This is sort of my secret approach to everything, which sounds very underwhelming, but there it is.)
One thing I knew I wanted was the creators names before each story, because I hate having to flip to the front of anthology to have to suss out who wrote/drew the story I’m reading now, so that meant I needed an opening page before each story.
The logo itself was kind of a challenge of my own design, with those damn double digits. I played around with a few configurations, and finally solved it by stacking them sort of off-center after setting them in a future-ish typeface that I customized and stylized.
You also wrote a story that appears in the anthology. Is this your first time writing a comic story? And what’s your story about?
Yeah, “Fireside” is my first completed comic (confetti canons go off). I was initially going to try and draw it as well, but couldn’t psych myself up enough to do it. Thankfully, my buddy Kyle Starks (which reminds me: if you haven’t read Sexcastle, you are living your life wrong) called me on my cowardice and we worked out a story that I’d been kicking around for a while, about a post-apocalyptic world that fuses Kamandi, Mad Max and A Boy and His Dog with Lord of the Rings and some other nerd stuff, probably.
We sort of Marvel-Method-ed it, with us breaking down the action on each page, him drawing it and then me coming back in and scripting it before and coloring/lettering/editing it. I think it worked? Kyle’s art is fantastic, at least.
Let’s talk about how you decided to distribute the book – essentially self-publishing it digitally and selling it on Gumroad for $2. As there are a lot of different paths to getting your book out there nowadays – things like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, comiXology Submit and, of course, the old-fashioned method of trying to find a publisher. What was appealing about the method you chose?
Gumroad seemed to offer the least amount of hassle for getting it from our files to our audience. We may try comiXology Submit in the future, but as the book had been sort of hanging in limbo for a bit, it felt good to be able to just upload it there and release it into the wild. Plus, it’s DRM-free (we released it prior to comiXology’s SDCC announcement of offering DRM-free download on select titles), and Gumroad takes a smaller bite, fees-wise, I think, so those were factors as well.
What’s the response been like to it thus far?
It’s been pretty great! The feedback I’ve gotten has been overwhelmingly positive, which is great for an anthology. I think we have a really solid line-up of talent with some great stories, and it’s been fantastic to hear that people agree. Sales have been good for an indy anthology with no real huge names, but we can always do with more. I mean, it’s $2 for 80-plus pages of DayGlo sci-fi comics! That’s a steal!
And all proceeds are going to The Hero Initiative?
For the Gumroad version, yes. If it goes up on comiXology or if we print it, we will adjust that, but we thought it best, as it’s a small book with a modest audience, to take whatever we’ve made from the digital sales on Gumroad and give it to struggling creators who made the comics we love and enjoy.
Do you have plans to publish a print version?
Nothing set in stone right now, though I would love to do it. The Gumroad launch was sort of a test to see if there’s an audience who’d be interested in this sort of thing before we go killing a bunch of trees.
If we do a print version, we will most likely go through Kickstarter, and to be perfectly honest, Kickstarter really intimidates me, though two of our contributors (Nolan T. Jones, who wrote “Decagon of Doom,” and is a founder of the Kickstarter-launched desktop gaming platform Roll20, and Kyle Starks is Very Good At Kickstarter) have run very successful campaigns, and I’ll probably lean heavily on them when the time comes to really hunker down and pull the trigger on this. My main motivation with a print run would be to get the contributors physical copies to sell at cons, because right now, we’re all working for free.
And finally, there’s a big “Volume 1” on the cover; are you already thinking about or working on Volume 2?
It’s definitely something I’m considering, especially now that I’ve got one volume down. The fluidity of the concept allows for a wide range of stories, and I definitely have a few creators whose 2299 I’d love to see. So for now, I’ll just leave it with an ominous “Who knows what the future holds?” and wiggle my eyebrows a bit.