Today Black Ship Books will be interviewing Brian Lee Byrd, creator of the upcoming series Bullets & Angels. Brian’s Kickstarter campaign has already gone live on June 5th and it has quickly picked up momentum, reaching 100 percent of its funding goal in as few as four days!
Black Ship Books: What is Bullets & Angels about exactly?
Brian Lee Byrd: Bullets & Angels is about a pair of demon hunters, hired by the Catholic Church to step in where traditional exorcists have failed. James “Ace” Hollister is a widower who hates and fears God just as much as he loves Him; he is one of a few souls gifted with the power to see demons, and this makes him especially skilled at this particular job. He is a loner, and though he is employed by the Vatican, he rarely follows orders to a T. He has his own way of doing things that sometimes gets him into trouble. The entire series is pre-Revelation, and for those of our readers not familiar with that phrase, that means that the series follows the coming of the Anti-Christ, as well as the second coming of Christ himself. This is a spiritual war book, full of grit and gore, power and fantasy.
BSB: Who are Alli and Ace as characters and were they inspired by real people?
BLB: Alli and Ace are the main protagonists of the book. They reluctantly team up to face a growing population of demons in the city of Las Vegas. Alli is more likely to follow the rules, and Ace is more likely to break them. Unlike a lot of male-female team ups, there is no romantic interest between them, and that leads to a completely different kind of tension.
Most writers take characters from their life to create characters in their stories, but that is not the case with Alli and Ace. I like to fancy Ace as a modern day Doc Holiday, whereas Alli I like to think of as a solely original character.
BSB: From what I’ve seen, Bullets & Angels gives the impression that it may shape up to be a series like Constantine and Supernatural, but are either of those series influences of this one and what sets it apart from other supernatural stories?
BLB: With this book I’m hoping to change the genre in how demons are stylized in visual media. In Bullets & Angels, there is a spiritual war going on all around us in between realms, but only a handful of people have the ability to see these angels and demons at work.
It seems like a lot of folks are wanting to compare Bullets & Angels to Constantine, and that’s just not fair to either book, and a discredit to both Ace and Constantine, because they are nothing alike. And that is coming from someone who has read every volume of Hellblazer and Constantine. There are a lot of differences but just to touch on a few: there is a huge anchor in Bullets & Angels that tries to link it to the real world as much as possible, while dealing with entities such as angels and demons. To elaborate on that thought, there are no capes and cowls in this book. Where, yes, Constantine has dealt with a demon or two in his heyday, he mostly deals with other mages, ghosts, vengeful spirits, and superheroes. Ace is not even a mage at all. Ace is Ace, and you’ll just have to read Bullets & Angels to see what that means.
I did a lot of research, and I tried to break the norm and follow the Biblical script as closely as possible. For example, Lucifer in the Bible was never once called “Satan” or “The Devil;” here he will be known as his angelic name, Lucifer, because that is what he was: an angel fallen from grace. Which brings me to the concept of the demons themselves. In most supernatural stories, demons are depicted as black creatures with red glowing eyes, fur, horns, and pitchforks who reign from a throne of fire and brimstone. I took all of that and cast it off, and made my own vision of Hell and of demons. For example, since demons are simply fallen angels, we took an angelic form, and disfigured it. Broken and tattered wings, the “horns” nothing more than a broken and separated halo. Demon themselves are nothing more than a shadow of their former celestial images, almost angelic, but in a distorted fashion, with grayish colored skin that has faded from a once brilliant ivory.
I also like to think of my vision of Hell as completely different from Dante’s or other famous versions of the place: simply a prison, without God, without life, without hope.
BSB: You’ve obviously had no problem in getting your Kickstarter campaign going, but what challenges have you encountered in creating this comic series? And what do you think makes a successful Kickstarter for a comic like this?
BLB: To be honest, I failed an Indiegogo campaign and a Kickstarter campaign before this one. It took a long time. I used my previous failings to learn what to do right. I talked to people every day. I offered special deals such as quick sketches to the next backer. I worked night and day rubbing shoulders with people. I got a death threat more than once for asking for money from people I didn’t know. As time went on, I would ask someone if they had heard about my book, and more and more people started saying yes. I made a Facebook just to talk to fans and other artists. I networked twelve hours a day starting a week before my Kickstarter went live. It’s been a long road to get here, but it’s so satisfying now. My kids were all jumping up and down with me when we got to 100%, and we were all screaming and dancing. It was really exciting for everyone. When I was filming my thank you video, my two year old was singing in the background about how happy he was. It was something else.
But one of the challenges of the book itself is that the entire team is spread all over the world: the artist is from Russia, the colorist is from Australia, and the letterer is from the UK. It’s tough, because I have to stay up all night to talk with them, and still get up to take care of my family. On top of that, I had to reformat my entire script to make things easier for everyone to read and work on. We also had a communication error, because Saint (the artist) wasn’t familiar with US print sizes, and made all the pages 8.5” x 11”. Since this was my first book, I sent the pages off to be colored, and didn’t realize we had an issue until it got to HdE, who sent them back and said they weren’t the right size. It was frustrating and embarrassing, but we worked through it, and everyone learned something that week.
BSB: As a writer, what would you say is the hardest part about working in the indie comics industry?
BLB: Being a writer is a lot tougher that what a lot of people think. A bad script can destroy a good idea, no matter how captivating the art is. From that very first panel and page, you get one chance to draw your reader into a compelling story, or lose them forever. It doesn’t stop there. Every panel is a potential chance to lose your reader. It’s tough, especially when you have to create a whole new world for them to dive into, a world they’re not familiar with. Not to mention all the people trying to break in as a writer. DC and Marvel will only look at you if you’re published, and even then, they’re very selective. And the independent publishers that you might want to break into don’t accept writing submissions. It’s a tough market.
BSB: Is Bullets & Angels the first major project you or the other members of your creative team have worked on or do any of you have other comics, digital or print, already out?
BLB: Bullets & Angels is indeed my very first project that I’ve ever worked on. As far as the rest of the team, I know that HdE has been lettering since 2010, but I’m not sure if he has any major works. I know Matt and Saint have been published before, but nothing major like this. We are all very excited about how big this book got and how quickly it got there. It has been a dream come true for everyone on the team.
BSB: So you’re only planning on self-publishing the first issue of the series Bullets & Angels, but what are your views on self-publishing?
BLB: Self-publishing is hard, as everyone knows. I really want to get on at Image, and I will be using this Kickstarter to get my pitch ready for them. Image asks that you send in at least five pages of story, but I want to send the entire Issue #1, to show them I’m dead serious about this. I have a fall back plan to pitch elsewhere, and another to self-publish if I don’t get picked up by any publishers, but without trying to sound arrogant, I feel like this book is going to blow away any editor that gets their hands on it.
BSB: You’ve already got 12 issues planned and ready for production, but how long do you plan on continuing the Bullets & Angels series and do you have plans to take it beyond comics?
BLB: So far, we have five large volumes planned, that’s 60 main issues, and then two small volumes, six issues each, that elaborate on backstories. We could potentially grow the world after the main story using these small volumes to tell stories from throughout the same universe. For example, we have a story called “Stuffed” that is the backstory for a character that appears in Volume Three.
It would be fantastic if we could get a film or television series based on the books, but right now, we are putting all our focus into making a good story before we explore other avenues of media.
BSB: If you could write any character out there, in comics, movies, TV or whatever, who would it be and why?
BLB: I would write Ralph Dibny (The Elongated Man) post Sue Dibny’s death. If I had been asked this question as a teenager, I would have said Hal Jordan, but Ralph is so compelling and deep. I love the whole Sherlock Holmes air about him. And who doesn’t love tragedy?
BSB: On a more personal note, what are the three most important things to you in life and how do they influence you as a writer?
BLB: I would have to say that the three most important things in my life are, firstly my faith. It may not seem like it because of how dark, gritty, and sometimes blatantly sexual my writing is, but I’m a very passionate and devoted Christian. Second to that, my family. My wife and kids, especially my wife Sarah. She stands by my side and sees me through all my dreams. Thirdly, a good sense of imagination. One could be well-versed and have read every book there is about writing and how to make comics, but without a good imagination, even the most studied writer would fall flat in the medium. Albert Einstein once said, “Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
Thank you for the questions, Marc, you’re a very good interviewer.
Thank you, Brian! For more on Bullets & Angels and the creative team behind it, please check out their Facebook page or even their Kickstarter page below!