Jason McNamara and Greg Hinkle have produced a strange comic book about a man on a mission. One dark night on a lost highway, a man loses everything. Decades later he finds it, and loses himself in the process.
In many ways the story and mood of The Rattler is one of a classic '70’s horror movie feel, strongly tempered by McNamara's characteristically bleak sense of humor. In mood I think it’s something like the movie "Cabin in the Woods”, but with more explicit sex and meaner jokes (if you can imagine such a thing).
Jason McNamara offered to answer a few impolite questions for me and so I took the opportunity to try and find out why on earth he’s doing this.
Sonia Harris: Jason, thanks for talking to us about The Rattler. I’m very curious as to how you and Greg produced such a complex and professional work, and why you’re publishing it this way…
Since The Rattler is a finished book by two relatively experienced comic book creators, why bother kickstarting it?
Jason McNamara: A black and white horror book could easily be overlooked in the market place. Greg and I really wanted to do something different to distinguish The Rattler. We gambled, correctly I believe, that the healthiest first step for the project was to launch it through Kickstarter. Now, if we’re ever lucky enough to do an edition through the direct market there will already be some awareness of the book.
To be blunt, it’s not like publishers are falling over themselves to work with me. I’ve never been any good at managing those relationships and I’m happy just to do my own thing. In that regard Kickstarter is a natural fit for how I like to work. Greg and I created The Rattler entirely on our own; it seemed appropriate that we see it through to the end. After working with me Greg moves onto a project with James Robinson, not a bad career trajectory.
SH: Comparing your previous experiences having had your books printed and disseminated by small publishers, what are the advantages now of self-publishing this time?
Jason McNamara: The biggest advantage is taking control of the financial end and creating a finite business model. For example, most publishers have a long term plan for selling books at conventions and want the best per unit price, so they over print. We’re doing the opposite; we’re spending more per unit and plan to have zero copies left over. If someone wants a copy of The Rattler in a year they can send their favorite publisher an email and bug them to publish it.
SH: There seems to be an growing trend of experienced comic book creators looking towards self-publishing and crowd-funded projects. Why do you think this is?
Jason McNamara: I think creators appreciate having greater control over how their work is presented to an audience; that was a huge concern for us. Also, if you have the tools to publish your work yourself, why not spare yourself the humiliating experience of shopping it around? Why ask permission when you can just do it yourself?
With Kickstarter you get to manage your own project, engage your audience one on one and appeal to the personal networks you’ve already created. You’ll never hit the same numbers as you would distributing through Diamond, you have to accept that it’s a entirely different experience, for your backers and yourself. But I think it’s an experience worth having.
SH: Unlike many comic book projects on Kickstarter, The Rattler is finished, both art and writing. Nice for the people who’re taking part in the Kickstarter (since it means they’ll definitely get the book), but how did you and Greg manage this?
Jason McNamara: Kickstarter represents an amazing opportunity for independent artists and Greg and I felt a huge responsibility not to cock it up. We didn’t launch until all the assets associated with the campaign were locked down. The timing isn’t ideal, we’re competing for exposure against four conventions and a Captain America movie, but this is when we’re ready to deliver the proper experience.
We never wanted the conversation about our book to be “where is it?” With a modicum of research and planning we have the ability to convert our backers into passionate advocates for our work. It’s not like you need to be a rocket scientist to figure out how to work a shipping scale.
SH: How long did writing and drawing The Rattler take, and how did it impact the rest of your lives?
Jason McNamara: Greg approached me about working together as he was finishing us school. I liked his work, thought it was atmospheric and had a unique quality to it. I pitched him on The Rattler and finished my first draft in spring 2011. He knocked out the first 8 pages and then he got pulled into other projects. After about a year of inactivity I decided it was time for Greg and I to part ways.
I half-heartedly looked for another artist but it was too late, mentally I could only see the book as drawn by Greg. So, I gave up on The Rattler and filed it away with all the other half finished books that haunt my hard drive. At my wedding, Greg and I reconnected and his wife, Shay, really pushed for us to give The Rattler another go.
The second time around was a completely different experience; Greg invested himself 100% in the project and was as passionate about it as I was. He turned down much better paying work to take this journey with me and I’ll always appreciate his dedication and thoughtfulness. In the time we took off his work had grown tremendously, in the end all the delays worked in our favor. His work elevates my own and I couldn’t be happier with the final product.
SH: When you’re writing a book like The Rattler (which you’ve said is loosely based on a personal experience), beyond weaving a good yarn, what exactly are you trying to communicate to the world?
Jason McNamara: I think at its core the book is about the relationships we form and how they define us. The story was inspired by true events but it’s also about a writer who is telling a story about who he thinks he is to himself. In that sense, the book is a bit of a personal indictment.
If reading The Rattler makes you reexamine yourself, your relationships and place in the world, then that’s great. But if you just want to look at pretty pictures of people getting their brains beaten out of their skulls, we’ve got that too.
The Rattler can be pre-purchased from Kickstarter here.