A Bug's Life: Greene & Pieper talk "Age of Insects"

What would happen if a new species of humanoid insects threatened to oust man from the top of the food chain? This is precisely the question Sparky Greene and Louis Pieper have set out to answer in "Age of Insects," a new independent comic book project that debuts in February. Greene is writing the book and Pieper is providing artwork, and CBR News sat down with the creative team to get the skinny on "Age of Insects," including a detailed account of the trials and tribulations of publishing a new book in the indie comics marketplace.

The premise for "Age of Insects" stemmed from Green's realization that human beings aren't as significant in the grand scheme of planet Earth as we'd like to think we are. "We haven't been here very long, maybe 40,000 years as we exist now," Sparky Greene told CBR News. "But these insects, like ants, have been around for 125 million years completely unchanged. And there's like almost a million different species of insects, and that doesn't even include arachnids. And there's only one of us. That was kind of the inspiration."

Book One of Greene and Pieper's "Age of Insects" epic will be comprised of six-to-eight 52-page installments. "The first Book is about the rise of a new species of humanoid to challenge homo sapien; to challenge man, and about one of these hybrids who is caught between the world of men and the world of this other species, a species that has very strong insect characteristics," Greene said.

"He's on a journey of not only self discovery about his own past, but he's going to discover where this new species came from, how they originated, and have to make some really hard decisions about whose lot he throws in with," Pieper added.

Both Greene and Pieper took to reading comic books at an early age. "When I was a boy, comic books are what really taught me to read," Greene said, remembering the days when comics sold for 10-cents-an-issue. "At that time, there weren't comic book shops so to go to the newsstand and get comics, that was a really big deal. And that's really what sparked my interest in reading." Though he drifted away from comics after about the age of 13, Greene never lost his love for the form.

Pieper, on the other hand, has been a lifelong comics fan and has wanted to draw comic books since he was 12-years-old. Pieper's first job out of high school was working at a comic book store in Santa Monica, California called Hi De Ho Comics, and after a year there he took a job at Richard Starkings' Comicraft lettering and design studio. But before departing Hi De Ho, Pieper asked his co-workers to keep their ears open for comic writers seeking artists.

"Some months went by, and eventually Sparky came by and left his card with one of the girls who then gave it to me," Pieper said.

At early stages in the project's development, Greene and Pieper did try to find a home for "Age of Insects" with one of the established publishers. At the time, they felt the name recognition an established publisher brings would lend "Age of Insects" a certain credibility, not to mention the benefits to be derived from a built-in marketing and distribution network. "But at the end of the day, for whatever reason, they passed," Pieper said. "Now in retrospect, I think that it would have been kind of sad to have lost the experiences that we've had in dealing with printers, figuring out the distribution, and doing our own marketing."

After a year-and-a-half of perseverance, Greene and Pieper finally succeeded in landing a distribution deal at Diamond. Up until that point, the extent of their distribution was their own self promotion to the proprietors of local southern California comic shops. Greene believes all aspiring comics creators should be prepared to fight this kind of uphill battle, but that no amount of adversity should deter creators from adhering to their own creative vision. "We got turned down repeatedly by Diamond, and then we did San Diego, and nobody from Diamond came over to see us," Greene said. "And they turned us down even after San Diego."

After submitting "Age of Insects" to Diamond on three separate occasions and being rejected each time, Greene and Pieper's perseverance ultimately paid off when a Diamond employee discovered the book on his own. "He saw what we were doing, believed in us, contacted us, and it was done it two weeks. It was that simple."

While Diamond distribution is certainly a watershed development for "Age of Insects," Greene and Pieper both fully realize they still have a long, hard road ahead. "Frankly, even with distribution, we won't make money for at least a couple years," Greene said. "You have to have the long vision about the whole thing. But we have that."

Self-published by Greene and Pieper, "Age of Insects" is a true indie comic in every sense of the term. At the outset, every aspect of the book's creation, marketing and distribution fell to its two creators. "I do some other things to bring in some money to pay for all of this, but for us, this is the main focus," Greene said. "And once we got to a certain point, the only way to really make this thing happen is for this to be basically our essential focus."

"There are a lot of independent people who are making comics that are pouring time, money, art, sweat, tears, whatever, and if they weren't, they wouldn't even be the blip that they are on the radar," Pieper said. "The market is so heavily controlled by Marvel and DC Comics."

That said, Pieper does not begrudge the Big Two their dominance over the comics marketplace, and belives that in a world where so many other mediums compete for the consumer's dollar, comic books had no choice but to find their own niche. "So I'm happy that Marvel and DC still do what they do, and they do it well," Pieper said. "They've been around long enough to where they've really shown that there is value to these intellectual properties, that they stay with people over a long period of time and will get them to put their dollar down on a toy or a video game or a movie or any of these licensed products. These brands, these characters, they stay in the hearts and minds of people."

Writing "Age of Insects" inspired in Greene an interest in entomology, and the writer now owns a praying mantis and a number of cockroaches. The latter actually featured prominently in the "Age of Insects" marketing campaign at this past year's San Diego Comic-Con: Greene hired a model to walk the convention floor wearing a transparent dress filled with cockroaches.

Greene and Pieper also employed a the guerilla marketing tactic of handing out "Age of Insects" bumper stickers and encouraging recipients to pepper them all over San Diego. Perhaps their most effective mode of advertising has been the "Age of Insects" van, which features the comic's logo and Ben Templesmith's cover art for the first issue. The creators positioned their van prominently in the convention center parking lot, and the exercise paid off.

"The van really did its job," Greene said. "When people came by our booth in the independent press pavilion at San Diego, they felt that they'd been seeing us everywhere, when in fact they'd only been seeing the one van in the one place."

After trying several other cover artists, Greene and Pieper decided ultimately to go with Ben Templesmith, now a household name in comics circles thanks to his involvement in projects like "30 Days of Night." "The success of '30 Days of Night' really did put him high on the list of creepy artists," Pieper said. "He seemed to fit not so much with the aesthetic of interiors of the book, but our aesthetic for the overall story."

The "Age of Insects" creators said that Templesmith was not only a joy to work with, but that the artist also made his own creative contributions to covers, and they couldn't be happier with the work he's done.

As far as Greene is concerned, the possibilities for "Age of Insects" stories are limitless. "Originally, there was going to be Book One, and then I have an idea about what Book Two and Book Three are going to be," Greene said.

The first issue of "Age of Insects" book one, which features words by Green, art by Pieper and colors by Heather Kenealy, is already available in select stores, but now that the project's been picked up by Diamond, issue #1 will be available in comic stores everywhere this February. Subsequent installments are scheduled to hit stands at three--month intervals.

Pieper and Green's is an experience they recommend for all comic book professionals. "I've met comic book artists who can't lay up their own digital files, it's a mystery to them, or they can't letter their own comic book," Pieper said. "We do everything ourselves, don't depend on anyone else for anything, and we truly are independents, and because of that, I'm happier for it."

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