Talking Comics with Tim | Bryan Q. Miller on <i>Earthward</i>

Writer Bryan Q. Miller (Smallville, Batgirl) is using Kickstarter to fund Earthward, an all-ages graphic novel that celebrates adventure, exploration and family -- in space, no less.

It's the story of six kids (Ben and his sister, Alyssa; Smack, the hustler; twins Cody and Trin; and Daniella, who was orphaned by a space pirate assault) in search of their missing parents. To tell the story of these adventure-seeking children (known collectively as the Mercury Six)  properly, Miller wants to team with artist Marcio Takara, who has worked on BOOM! Studios' The Incredibles and DC Comics' Blue Beetle. That's where the Kickstarter drive comes into play ... but more about that in the interview.

Miller's partial aim with Earthward is to tell a tale that appeals to both kids and adults, without pandering to either demographic -- a lofty goal. Miller and Takara are aiming for a September 2013 delivery date.

Tim O'Shea: How early in the development process of Earthward did you know you want it to be all-ages? How long has this story been in development?

Bryan Q. MillerEarthward has been with me as completed story that I would tweak every now and then, for a bit. I could never quite put my finger on the best avenue to pursue with it. Should it be an animated movie? A video game? A live-action movie? A Cartoon Network pilot? From inception, it was always intended to be all-ages, in a sense that I wanted it to live in a space where 7-year-olds could enjoy it, as well as 35-year-olds. Often, all-ages winds up meaning "watered down for child consumption." That isn't the case with Earthward.

Was there some fellow creators' success in pursuing Kickstarter that made you decide you should go that route as well?

Obviously, seeing the successes that Gail [Simone] and Jamal [Igle] recently had didn't hurt. But I think I started eyeballing Kickstarter as something to pursue, regardless of project, during the Womanthology push.

There have been a few Kickstarters started by industry pros that have failed because they set their goal too high. Without necessarily going into particulars, how did you go about setting a seemingly realistic fiscal goal?

"Seemingly" is just the kind of optimism I love to hear!

It's basically the bare bones for what I need to make sure everyone on the creative team (excluding myself -- pro bono, here) is able to get their rate. If we surpass our goal, that's when we get to start adding pages, making the book itself heftier, etc. I very much want every step of this process, from start to finish, to be as professional as possible. Just because it's a labor of love doesn't mean it shouldn't help the people behind the scenes put food on the table.

I was struck by a few of the pledge rewards: commissioned pieces from Marcus To, Pere Perez or Jamal Igle (as well as many other artists); a workshop with you, Sterling Gates and Kyle Higgins. In reciprocation, are you offering to be part of a prize in each of those creators' Kickstarter drives?

Even though we don't see each other (hardly ever), at least not without "Con" behind something around our necks, we're all a part of the same family. We all wants comics to do well. So, if any of my incentive providers need help with their own projects, I'm more than happy to do whatever I can!

What prompted you to make a conscious decision of "we're straying from excessive swag at the incentive levels"?

Believe me, I looked into lunchboxes. I priced lunchboxes. We almost had lunchboxes. Then I spent some time walking through MANY other Kickstarters, and noticed quite a few had incentive levels that seemed to be more about "lunchboxes" than the actual project. That isn't to say I'm knocking anyone who does that. You do what you feel you need to do in order to make your goal amount. That just isn't something I wanted to pursue for Earthward. I want as much of the money provided as possible to go directly into the nuts and bolts of getting my creative team compensated at a fair rate, and getting the book physically published and shipped. We're doing prints of Earthward covers, an exclusive print from an outside artist, and commission slots with top tier talent -- all incentives that are at least on-point with the world of the graphic novel and comics as a whole. The workshop incentive is to help out any writers in the audience who want/need some beta-reading or fine-tuning.

You note that with this project "The goal is to create a piece of graphic fiction that can be enjoyed by both children AND adults, while pandering to neither -- a line that is rarely ridden in the current climate." Two questions, what's the key to success in writing material that appeals to both children and adults. Secondly, why is that line rarely ridden in the current climate?

As to why it doesn't happen often, I'm not sure. There are certainly books out there that ride it, but the blanket presumption is that, when you see "all ages", that means it isn't for adults. It's something I very much strived to with my run on Batgirl (with rare exception) -- trying to make the books as ACCESSIBLE to new and old readers, old and young, as possible. It's all about how you present your subject matter.

To successfully ride that line, you simply need to be mindful of your audience and tell a story that neither excludes the adult readers or leaves the children in the dark. The original Star Wars trilogy (more so before Jedi) does this incredibly well. And I don't think it was even the intention! But it's a great model to look to. And it's vitally important for the industry to get comics into kids' hands, whether that be in print or on tablets. If 10-year-olds don't have comic books as a "valued item" on their consumer radar now, they'll be all but irrelevant to them by the time they graduate high school and finish college. We need to maintain a continuum of readers, not just the adult and the very young. Kids read books. Let's give them more to read!

Among the influences you cite for this story (aside from Goonies) are Last Starfighter, to Explorers to the, as you describe it, "[vastly overlooked] Titan: A.E." On that last one, what is it about Titan: A.E. that makes it such a great story that it should not be overlooked?

It swings big. It tells a very big story, with very high stakes. At the same time, it's personal. It's a story about a son and his father. I think it came out at a time when there wasn't much audience for it. If it had come to audiences in that 1982-1986 sweet spot for genre movies, I think it would have gotten way more acceptance, with way less Creed. Plus it's one of (if not the) last Don Bluth features, right? And THAT is a crime, because that style is awesome. I have no shame in admitting that, when I started to talking to Marcio about drawing this, there was many a reference to "Don Bluth."

Of all the cast names, I am most curious how you came up with the name for Smack?

It's a dual purpose bit, awarded him by the other children forced to live with him every day. He never stops talking, his gums always "smackin'"… and the trouble he often gets everyone else into might just earn him a good-natured smack or two from his peers.

Of the Mercury Six main characters, is there one or two that you love to dialogue more than the others (or do you have equal affinity for all the characters)?

It's equal affinity for all, but the most interesting pairings to write are the antagonistic ones. The Twins and Smack. General Vaelyn (our lead villain) and ANYONE. On the flip side, though, there's our Miyazaki/Artoo-Threepio pairing of Teachbot and little Daniella that's just a hoot.

I know you discovered artist Marcio Takara via a Twitter link, but when was the moment you realized he was the right fit for this story?

It was literally as soon as I saw his website. I wasn't even actively looking for someone to draw Earthward, and the minute I saw his work, that's all my brain would scream. Luckily, after he read it, his brain started screaming, too!

What's the most attractive aspect of pursuing creator-owned work like this?

Not that I didn't have an appreciation for what editorial does (in a practical, let's get the book made sense), but WOW is this a crash course in that! So that's something I didn't plan for during the process. As for what's attractive, I think it's being able to take something I love, and see it through to realization every step of the way. It certainly has its DNA in tons of media I consumed in my youth, but it's still an original property. I'm not carrying someone else's ball downfield on this one. We just need everyone's help via the Kickstarter to help get us into the end zone.

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