Five years ago, Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani were a pair of acclaimed cartoonist, selling their own wares at comic conventions and shops across the country. But when their character "Patrick The Wolf Boy" caught the eye of DC Comics, it led to a publishing deal that has made them kids comic superstars.
From their first acclaimed DC series "Tiny Titans" through a string of animated adaptations like "Young Justice" and "Green Lantern: The Animated Series," the collaborators most commonly known as simply Art N Franco have been entertaining kids, adults, librarians and more with their quick-witted characters. And now, the two are looking to return to their self-publishing roots with a brand new series called "Aw Yeah! Comics."
Created in conjunction with their Skokie, Illinois comic shop, "Aw Yeah! Comics" is a proposed 12-issue series which will also feature work by tons of other comic talents including Brad Meltzer, Jason Aaron and Chris Roberson. After Art N Franco took the idea to popular crowd-funding site Kickstarter, their plans for a single series launch grew and grew as they hit their initial coal of $15,000 in eight hours. Since then, the idea for "Aw Yeah!" has accelerated to a whole line of books of which the 12-issue series will be the first installment, and along the way, Art N Franco have built in plans for dream projects like plush toys.
CBR News spoke to both creators about the overnight success their Kickstarter has found, how that empowered them to make the company they've always wanted, what special projects fans can see as the Kickstarter continues to grow and why their own characters like Action Cat and Adventure Bug will continue to develop in the same way big ticket superheroes have for years.
CBR News: Guys, I think that congratulations are in order to start things out. The Kickstarter campaign seems to be going extremely well already.
Art Baltazar: Yeah, it's pretty awesome. We got our goal faster than we even thought. I thought we'd hit it maybe two or three weeks in, but I didn't think seven or eight hours would be all it took.
Before you ever worked for DC, you were in self publishing with characters like Patrick The Wolf Boy. How did this specific set of new characters come about, and why did you want to give them their own series? I know they've been used in the advertising for the store you own in Skokie, IL. How much a factor did that play?
Franco Aureliani: We had this idea to put a book together when we started our store, and we were actually going to publish the books exclusively through our store. It was just going to be for our customers, and it kind of took on a life of its own. People found out we were doing that and that you could only get these from us, and then they started to call us and writing to us to ask if they could get them, and then stores started calling to see if they could get them. It just grew from there. We weren't going to do a Kickstarter. We were just going to do it on our own, but our friend said, "You should do a Kickstarter." We said we didn't have the time for that, and he said he'd do it for us. Then funding happened in eight hours and blew everybody's minds.
Baltazar: Yeah, originally the characters were just there when we opened up the shop because we thought it would be cool to have mascots. Action Cat and Adventure Bug became our mascots and are on all our walls and windows and business cards. They seemed to take on a life of their own. Things were growing from the store, and now they've almost become our corporate mascots. It's weird how popular they were getting even though there were no comics out yet. Like Aureliani said, we started talking about making comics, and it all just evolved into what is now a 12-issue series! [Laughs] We say it developed in a heartbeat.
You've done comics on your own for so long, but this series is going to be a big collaborative effort with a lot of people chipping in. Did you essentially take the model sheet that's on the Kickstarter and just send it to people for inspiration?
Aureliani: That was really Art.
Baltazar: I wanted to make comics, but I had so much work doing "Superman" and "Super Pets," so the only way to really do this was to have other people write and draw the characters we created. I kind of wanted to treat it like how Spider-Man and Superman have been treated all these years, where certain creative teams get started and put their own spin on the character and then they move on for the next creative team so we'll get all the storytelling history from the creators. I wanted to let our characters evolve that way. We didn't give anyone any history or background for the characters. We just tell them that Action Cat and Adventure Bug are actually Aloysius and Cornelius and they work at the store. That's pretty much all we're telling people. Me and Aureliani have a bunch of stories planned, but we didn't want to tell everybody what we're thinking because we wanted to see what they had in mind.
So once we started thinking about that, my mind started going to all my comic book and cartoonist friends, and Aureliani went to all the famous guys. [Laughter] It was weird. He called up Brad Meltzer and Jason Aaron, and I got more local guys like Denver Brubaker and Alejandro Rosado. It was pretty cool. I didn't think that these big name famous guys would be interested in doing a little comic like this. It just evolved. The whole thing was evolving and becoming its own thing, and it seemed like the longer we work on this, it gets bigger and bigger. It's so much fun right now.
How did you view this as a publishing project? Like I said, you were on your own for years before DC, but since doing "Tiny Titans" and everything else, it seems like you have more fans now. Did that impact what you wanted to do with these stories in terms of publishing and distribution?
Aureliani: I think we have a bigger audience now, and we knew we had a bigger audience, but we still had our roots in self-publishing. That's how we approached Aw Yeah! Comics. The biggest surprise for us was how much our audience has apparently grown, and it was obvious on the first day of the Kickstarter that we have this huge audience. We knew we had it, but in the back of your mind when you're coming up in the self-publishing route, you approach projects thinking you're going to keep doing it all by yourself. But now our fanbase is so much bigger than it used to be, and as we're still going the self-publishing way it's paying off. People are loyal to us, and we're so humbled by it.
Baltazar: When we first started, we were talking about this, and both Aureliani and I felt like we didn't have the time to do all the publishing stuff. But our friend Chris Smits -- we call him Zod, if you ever listen to our podcast where we talk about him a lot -- he said to us that he could do the publishing part. Why don't we run a Kickstarter, and then he could become a publisher for us? And I was thinking, "Okay, but do you really know how to do that stuff?" And he said, "Yeah, I can do that!" and he read me his resume. We're just buddies and we hang out, but we don't really talk about business things, but that's when I realized he really knew what he was doing. [Laughs] He helped us become a little publisher. We've got a company now. It's all about that evolution.
Even the Kickstarter has been evolving. Like you said, the initial success took you by surprise, and then Mike Norton got involved and agreed to do a "Battle Pug" tie-in, and there are some other incentives now waiting if you hit certain levels of funding. How did all that come about?
Aureliani: Well, we kind of scrambled a little bit. [Laughter] We never thought it'd happen that fast, but we knew were were going to do 12 issues, and we had some ideas in the back of our heads about doing some Annuals. We'd asked Mike to do a story, and he was one of the first guys we'd asked because we did "Billy Batson" with him and knew him from way before that. He said that he was too busy to do it, but then he surprised us online by saying that if we reached a certain amount, he'd do a story. And then people went crazy. We're trying to add things that are cool and keep them going. So we're not really Kickstarting a comic book. What we're planning on doing is Kickstarting a whole series of them. We're going to publish a whole bunch of other stuff. We wanted to grow from the initial money we get from the Kickstarter into a whole line of comic books.
Baltazar: Yeah. We had a bunch of plans, and we were only going to start with the comics. But once we had so many people on there and so much funding coming in, I told Aureliani, "We could do more. We could do all these things we wanted to do." Like now, we're trying to reach a goal to make some dolls. And we've been trying to make those dolls for, gee, probably over a year. But we haven't had the money to make them. You have to get them made in China and everything and get a few thousand of each doll. It's pricey. But now we think we might be able to do it. That's our biggest stretch goal. I think it's $45 or $50,000. We're crossing our fingers.
So the 12 issues are definitely locked in, and I assume you'll submit those to Diamond. What are your long term plans for that material and others? Do you see this going to a level where you'll publish graphic novels and try to get them into bookstores and libraries?
Baltazar: We want to do it all. We just have to figure out how. We had intended to just sell them at our store, but now a lot of opportunities are opening up. We want to make our books available everywhere for everybody all around the world. We've just got to figure it out. We'd never done all of this in the past. With "Patrick" it was so easy. You'd just send it to Diamond, and then you're done. Now there are so many opportunities outside of Diamond that we know about, but we're not sure how it's all done just yet. But we'll figure it out! This is a great opportunity to actually Kickstart a business. It's exciting, and Zod's got a lot of phonecalls to make. [Laughter]
Stay tuned later this week for more with Art N Franco on their "Superman Family Adventures" finale and their New 52 series "The Green Team."