Project: Get Known! CRESCENT CITY COMICS
After seeing some pages and reading Dream Fury Comics’ initial offering in Crescent City Monsters, I was happy to be approached by writer Newton Lilavois for an interview with him and artist Gian Carlo Bernal. Get to know ‘em!
Mikey P: Newton, what's your pitch for Crescent City Monsters?
Newton: Crescent City Monsters is a story about a New Orleans sorcerer, Jonas, who grows up around magic and monsters. When the monsters betrays him for a bounty on his head, Jonas loses everything and everyone important to him. While trying to figure out who turned the Crescent City monsters against him, he learns about a dark power within himself.
Mikey P: What made you want to tell this kind of story?
Newton: I’m a fan of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, so I was originally inspired to write a zombie story. I wanted a different spin on the zombies. I decided to make them more of the Haitian type Zombies. In fact, in the beginning I was going to have the story take place in Haiti but then I was pulled towards New Orleans because of its connection with voodoo, ghosts, monsters and other supernaturals.
Mikey P: I love that voodoo-ish magic is the source of Jonas’s power. What sort of planning or research went into the range and limits of his powers?
Newton: Voodoo-ish magic is a good description because his powers come from a combination of places instead of just voodoo. I like to call it Creole Magic. The word creole is used to describe a mixture of some things or people. Jonas’s family magic is a mixture of African, European, and Native American magic. That leaves a lot of room in terms of what Jonas could do when I was deciding his powers. At the same time I didn’t want Jonas to be a really powerful sorcerer like Dr. Strange. I wanted him to be grounded in everyday life.
Mikey P: The south, specifically Louisiana in the 1960’s, how much does the setting play a role in the story?
Newton: When you look at the 1960s, that was America’s biggest counter culture between generations. Every generation does things differently from the next but this era really flipped things around so much so that there was incredible tension touching all aspects of life. I wanted to use that to add tension to the story itself.
Mikey P: I can tell the pacing and specifically the dialogue was crisp, very well thought out. Have you written anything before? How many iterations did you go through before considering it a finished script?
Newton: Thanks I’m glad you appreciate my writing. This is my first writing project, but I’ve always had an interest in writing. When I was about 11 years old I drew my own comics with original characters. I took some creative writing courses in high school and college. I even won a couple of local writing contests in high school. A few years ago I started a writing a script for a web series I was going to produce on YouTube but that plan fell through.
As for iterations of the completed script, believe it or not I don’t write out my scripts completely. I write them in 5-6 page piece meals. I know what’s going to happen but I let Gian’s artwork help shape the story a bit. In fact, Gian didn’t see the last six pages of the script until a couple of months ago.
Mikey P: At what point did you seek out an artist? Did you have Gian Carlo in mind when writing? How did this collaboration come to be?
Newton: Once I had the outline of the story I started looking for an artist. I spent some time looking for the right artist. I searched sites like DeviantArt, ArtStation, Behance, and Instagram. I remember seeing Gian first on DeviantArt. Then I saw his work on a Kickstarter project I backed. Since he worked on a Kickstarter project before, which was a big plus, so I reached out to him.
Mikey P: Gian Carlo, what was it about Newton’s story that made you want to bring it to life?
Gian Carlo: When Newton reached out to me for a character design, I did some research on Dream Fury Comics. I saw his characters for Crescent City Monsters and a brief description of his story. A zombie story with a twist and something I’ve never seen before. That instantly caught my attention. And then he said to me that the story also involves witches and monsters. I said to myself, “Oh man I want this!” Working on a zombie story is a dream project of mine. Add some more monsters and witches in the story and it is like a monster haven. I am hooked!
Mikey P: How much artistic direction was given in terms of character design or panel structure? How much back and forth was there between you guys during character and page creation?
Gian Carlo: In terms of panel structure, we are working on a descriptive script. Newton provides me with some researched materials and references that I will need on the page before I start working on the panels. So I can just have fun and work on the pages. I send rough sketches first for approval so I can be sure I got it right as far as the storytelling goes. And work on some changes before starting on the inks and grey tones. In terms of the character design, there is a lot of back and forth going on. We really want to get the character right for the story especially the form of Raven. And I am happy with how Raven turned out.
Newton: I would say for about 70% of the pages do not involve art related changes. Gian does the lettering also so I’ll ask him to change some of the dialog if it doesn’t feel right. Gian does an excellent job of panel structure. I never change Gian’s panel structure. When there are art changes it’s usually character design. This is where the back and forth happens the most. For example, by the time we had come to the Grunch part of the story I had totally changed the original character design. And the humanoid form of the Raven was also tweaked a bit.
Mikey P: Gian, your art is bonkers good! Undeniably incredible. How would you say you crafted this skill?
Gian Carlo: Thanks for the kind words Mikey! I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. I remember as a child I was trying to copy my father’s drawing of Incredible Hulk. As an adult I worked as a graphic designer and illustrator, but it was when I started working on comics that my growth curve really improved. I tried to work on different and extreme genres and just have fun. I never backed down on a difficult page or something that I haven’t done before. And every time I finish a very difficult and exhausting page, I learned something new and add it on my skill set. And I must say, Crescent City Monsters had some difficult pages. Drawing comics may be hard, but it is very fulfilling.
Mikey P: These are colorless pages but there is such a range of tone and shadow to your inks. Is this the sort of style you bring to all you work or something specific you agreed upon in this book?
Gian Carlo: I mostly just work pencil and inks. And just use grey tones in character design commissions. But I did try to do some simple grey tones on a short story anthology and to another project long ago. But nothing compared to the grey tones we are working on Crescent City Monsters. At first, I was just aiming on simple grey tones. But as the pages progress and the action builds up the transition in style started. I started adding layers and effects along the way. But when I did that I consulted Newton if those effects will work well with the scenes and panels.
Newton: From the beginning I wanted the story in black and white. Gian’s grey tone work added a nice texture to the story. When he agreed to add this to his artwork I had no idea how amazing it was going to come out. So while I knew I wanted grey toned black and white artwork for the story, I couldn’t imagine it would look as great as this.
Mikey P: The lettering is uncredited but fantastic. The Owl and Raven word balloons was also a nice touch later on. Who also designed the symbols when Jonas speaks his magic?
Newton: Gian also does the lettering. The funny thing is that I was suppose to find a letterer but Gian agreed that he would letter until I found one. Gian initially wasn’t comfortable lettering because he felt like that wasn’t his thing. Yet page after page he kept on doing a great job. By half way through I was like, “Ok, Gian, you’re my letterer.”
I agree the captions he did later in the chapter with the Owl and Raven was a nice touch. That was totally his idea and I loved it.
I designed the lettering when Jonas speaks his magic. You’ll notice that the fonts from the first time he speaks magic is different from the later times. I was still trying to find the right font while we were creating the pages. It’s one of the few things that we have to go back and change.
Gian Carlo: At first I wasn’t confident doing the letters. I just use them as placeholders on the layout stage. And I said that we can just use the placeholders while he is still looking for a letterer. But as I did the lettering I started to look for learning materials and videos and try to absorb as much as I can and learn more about it. Newton and I collaborated a lot with the letters. He sent me the magic spells of Jonas. We talked on what font and bubbles would work well, added some effects, and just had fun doing the captions on Owl and Raven. Newton helped me a lot as I learn more about lettering.
Mikey P: In terms of promotion, it's an interesting decision all indie creators go through to whether or not to offer a free read online. How do you feel your full 24 pages yields future readers?
Newton: Originally the plan was to put maybe the first 15 pages online for free. Then I read about webcomic creators who provided their full comics online for free and were still able to get a significant amount of people to purchase print versions of the comics. The idea started to make some sense. In the real world, you can go to a comic shop and read the whole comic book before you purchase it. At the very least, you can quickly flip through the book to see if you want to purchase it. So the free online version sort of models that. Plus it’s a real validation of how much people like your work if they’re paying for a hard copy when they can read it for free. As a consumer myself, if I really loved a free webcomic and I knew it was available in print, I would buy it. Based on those ideas, I decided to make the first chapter available for free online. I feel confident in the decision so far because so many people keep asking for the printed version.
Gian Carlo: Once I see a potentially good comic, I search more online to see if i can get more previews of it, the more the better. And I am still tactile when it comes to comics. And after I ordered it I can’t sleep right until it arrives on my door and hold it, smell it and flip it carefully with my hands. And It makes me very anxious on getting the next issue of the comic.
Mikey P: What was the hardest part for you in getting this comic made?
Newton: Honestly, right now we’ve been putting this out as a webcomic so there hasn’t been anything particular hard technically about making the comic book. Now when the Crescent City Monsters Kickstarter project begins that may be a different story. If you’re talking about the business part of making the comic book, I would say the marketing is the hardest part. It’s mostly the consistency needed for social media. Having to post on at least two social media sites everyday drains me for a bit. Figuring out how to get significant Facebook attention without paying is maddening. I do it though because I know it’s necessary. It’s sort of like what Muhammad Ali said about training, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'”
Gian Carlo: I think it would be my schedule. I really would want to do more pages in a week. It would be awesome to see more pages and improve the pace. But I have other commitments that held me a bit to doing that and I am very thankful for Newton for being so understanding. But I am looking to doing more pages a week in the future. And Newton is doing a fantastic job keeping us up every day in social media considering we are a weekly webcomic.
Mikey P: With the first issue completed, where do you plan to take things?
Newton: We’re going to begin our Kickstarter campaign in a couple of months to get the comic book printed. I’m still exploring my options about future chapters. I’m deciding whether to continue with the current free model or use the Patreon platform for future chapters.
I’m also currently working on another webcomic about an alternate version of Hercules but I won’t put the pages online for that until I’ve finished the Crescent City Monsters Kickstarter campaign.
Mikey P: When did you start to really work towards pursuing a path to making comics?
Newton: I started December of 2016. After backing my first Kickstarter comic book project called Shadoweyes a few months before that December, I was hooked on the Kickstarter idea. The idea that you can get people to support newbie creators like me to fulfill their dream of printing a comic book was incredible to me. I read a couple of Kickstarter eBooks by Spike of Iron Circus Comics. Those eBooks helped me decide to begin the journey as an indie comic creator.
Gian Carlo: It started in 2014. I had been working as a graphic designer for 11 years and I was not happy. I was looking for something different. I really wanted to draw comics. My wife is very supportive so I packed my bag and left graphic designing. I wanted to draw horror, sex and violence so I aimed for those publishers. I did two sequential pages of a sexy Dracula and a victim page with no dialogue and submitted it to sexy and horror publishers. Some replied and the fun started from there. And now I am happy to be working on Crescent City Monsters. I will draw until I die, my body rot and I will come back as a zombie and draw comics again.
Mikey P: What’s the comic dream you hope to achieve one day?
Newton: I want to create cool comics that my daughters can show their children and say, “Your granddad created this.”
Gian Carlo: When I started I know I dream to be a part of something good and meaningful in the comic industry. I don’t know specifically what it is. But I know I can get that by enjoying the moment, doing the hard work and respect towards the people I am working with.
Mikey P: Who are the creators who have inspired you?
Newton: As far as indie comics go, the most inspirational for me was Sophie Campbell’s Shadoweyes. It was the first Kickstarter comic book I ever backed. After reading that book, I truly was inspired to write my own story. As for mainstream comics, it’s usually a combination of a creator and a particular work of theirs. This would include Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead, and Brian Michael Bendis’s run on Daredevil with Alex Maleev.
Gian Carlo: Newton Lilavois, Gregory Faulk and Rick Remender.
Mikey P: Besides comics, what other passions propel you in life?
Newton: I’m a web developer so I also like programming. That’s something that I’ve been doing since I was about 11 years old.
I’d like to produce a web series on YouTube one day. I used to produce a vlog a few years ago and discovered liked editing and directing. I can easily see myself jumping into that area of creation.
Gian Carlo: Besides comics, I am just trying to be a good father and husband. And hopefully guide my son to be the person that he wants to be and just be a fun and loving human.
Mikey P: What advice do you have to the unknowns out there?
Newton: I would have two pieces of advice. The first is to do this for yourself and no one, nothing else. The second is a Steve Jobs quote, “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish”
Gian Carlo: Just have fun. If it is hard, It is going to be worth it.
Thanks for the time guys. Looking forward to more.