So after taking a couple of weeks off to talk about the new movies and the return of my favorite shows, I am wrapping up the last of the MEGABOOK 4 creator interviews. Today we have the ever-passionate comic writer Robert Finch!
Black Ship Books: Tell us how you know Mike Rickaby and how you became part of M4.
Robert Finch: Well, truth is I didn’t! Ale, the artist of Battlefield Room, had been in contact with me for some time wanting to do something. At the time I was very busy with other projects, but as often happens, I had a spare script to give him. The way I see it if an artist wants to draw an unused script of mine it’s a win-win, even if I can’t find a way to monetize it in the form of a comic pitch (Battlefield Room was way too short) the intent was that both of us could use the piece in our portfolio. Of course, Ale had the bright idea of pitching to Mike, and once Mike was comfortable with him, he became very interested in what the two of us together had to offer. The rest is simply what you see on the page.
BSB: Could you also tell us what your story Battlefield Room is about and what inspired the story?
RF: The story has two origins, one from fiction and one from my childhood. You see, my brother and I LOVED to play collectible card games when we were children. We’d beg our father for card packs and when we got birthday money we’d sometimes spend it all on box sets full of cards! We spent many an afternoon shuffling our decks and sending our monsters out in combat against each other, and although we’ve drifted apart a little my brother still from time to time tries to convince me to play a multiplayer videogame of some sort. Sadly I don’t play games nearly as much as I used to and I’ll often decline, but the whole scenario of two kids playing a futuristic, strategy-oriented game against each other is definitely inspired by those times with my brother.
On the other end, there is an obscure anime I liked as a teen called Angelic Layer. The show took place in the near future where dolls when put on a “layer” were able to move and fight each other when controlled by some sort of headset. The story was nothing to write home about, but the concept stayed with me and I’ve always thought that would be a cool game to play! Battlefield Room is a variation of that concept but with multiple toys being used rather than just one with more of a focus on army management like RTS games, another thing my brother and I would play! Now that I think of it, my sister would play a particular game with us, Red Alert 2, on the local network that my father set up (he would play as well!). I used to rationalize that the implied less experienced female character in Battlefield Room was one of the various female friends I’ve had over the years, but truthfully if that character is based on anything, it’s my little sister trying her best to keep up with my brother and I as we played wargames with each other. It really is that simple, Battlefield Room is about two kids having fun in a way that someday may come to pass.
BSB: What do you think is the most significant factor in the decline in popularity for many mainstream comics?
RF: Well I wouldn’t know about that. Unlike many reading this I didn’t really grow up with comics or had any interest. I think my sole encounter with comics was when, at the local barber, comic books would be hidden within the magazines due to the shop’s relation to Marvel I believe, and although I enjoyed those it wasn’t enough for me to beg my parents to take me to a comic book shop. And of course back in the 90’s/early 00’s when I grew up there wasn’t nearly as big a push to have comics in the libraries, and back then I agreed with the “mainstream” that comics weren’t “real literature.”
What changed my mind was one summer when I was 18 I had a lot of time on my hands before going to college for the first time. Searching the internet for stuff I soon found something extraordinary, the comic underground! All over the net (and still today!) there were all sorts of comics from fascinating fantasy stories to humorous slapstick to dark urban horror. I had no idea that comics were so good until then, and it didn’t take long for me to be so enamored with the community that I wanted to make comics too. It was a start of a long journey for me that still continues, but I went online and found an artist to work with long story short, and thus my love of reading comics was not too far removed in origin from my love of writing them.
BSB: As a writer what do you believe is the most important element in a good story and a well-written main character?
RF: First of all…main character?! Haha! What people don’t always realize is that there’s a reason in many stories you aren’t really rooting for Batman as much as you’re rooting for justice over all or interested in Luke Skywalker as much as we like Yoda talking about the force. Main characters aren’t exactly characters as we like to think of them, they’re simply our stand-ins where we engage in epic gang fights or survive a zombie epidemic. Not that the main characters can’t be…well…characters. But at the same time I’m less interested in protagonists as much as the characters he or she meets and the vast horizons that are explored or surmounted. As a writer and a reader what’s most important in any story is not the plot itself, but the world the plot takes place in. Comic fans can get pretty in-depth about the various characters in each continuity and the varied pieces of lore that are interspersed in each issue, and although I can’t speak for everyone I’m always asking when I’m reading a book or comic “where am I?” A good book is like a trip to an impoverished third world country, you are astonished with what you’ve seen and take back with you on your return to reality a newfound understanding of what life could be like far off into the multiverse. Not that world creation is the only factor in creating a comic, but I feel that in comics themselves everything boils down to that end goal of creating a new place for your readers to visit. And heck, some writer’s minds make very good tourist traps!
BSB: From your own experience, what are some of the biggest challenges you think indie creators face right now and what would you suggest to resolve some of those issues?
RF: I’m more familiar with the internet world of comics than any other scenes, and for the most part I believe that the internet is the seed of so many of our future talent with its ability as a testing ground for a lot of folks. Problem is, there’s not a lot of money in webcomics right now. Some have very popular comics and have been updating their pages for years with not even a dime, and I’m sure many a very talented creator has just given up and put down their pen or drawing tablet. I personally think that it’s not the web-comicer’s fault that they can’t make cash with their product, they just don’t have the know-how to promote or sell their comic. So I think that there needs to be some hot-shots out of business school who, with a love of comics and creativity, give some of the most accomplished creators a hand at managing a world that simply isn’t their specialty. I think the marriage between an indie team and a marketing enterprise is really what we need right now to make some of these great guys and gals money to put back into their creativity and productivity. It’s become easier for some of the most established what with Patreon and Kickstarter but I think we have a ways to go to make it easier for creators who just want to make a living doing what they love.
BSB: Finally, are there any words you would like to give to aspiring creators or fans out there?
RF: All I can say to fans is that if you love to read, keep reading! Not only will reading what you like make you happier, but you’ll be supporting a lot of us who want to do nothing but bring that happiness to you!
BSB: Thanks so much for your time and the inspirational words, Robert! I hope that the readers do give the sites you mentioned a chance and check out your work at SmackJeeves and Riversprout.com! And there is a more to come as we near the final M4 creator interview.