Renae de Liz is a comic book artist, having worked on titles such as Anne Rice’s Servant of the Bones, The Last Unicorn, and the forthcoming Peter Pan. In 2011 she masterminded the highly successful Womanthology Kickstarter campaign, bringing together female creators and fans from around the world. She lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, with her husband, fellow artist Ray Dillon, and their two sons.
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Black Ship Books: Hiya, Renae! Let’s start at the beginning – What’s the first comic book you can remember reading?
Renae de Liz: Betty and Veronica Double Digest! I was probably 7 or 8. I read tons of Archie comics for a while because they were available in supermarkets. When we finally got a comic shop nearby, I moved onto other types of comics.
BSB: When did you get your first big publishing “break?”
RDL: My first “in print” publishing was for IDW on a title called Rogue Angel in 2006, I believe. That was about two years from when I first “came back” to comics after years of quitting drawing. I had only done a handful of proper sequential pages before getting this job, and at the time I felt like I wasn’t supposed to be working on a published book yet because I was supposed to know “everything” about drawing comics before my work was published, so I was very insecure starting out.
BSB: Looking back, how do you think that early work compares to what you’re doing now?
RDL: Looking at that work now, I can only really see the flaws (which is true for just about everything I look at of mine) but I can admit I see a lot of improvement in many areas, which is nice to see.
BSB: What makes Renae de Liz unique as a creator? Is there a defining characteristic that sets what you do apart from others in the field?
RDL: I think perhaps I could be seen as unique because I strive for the middle ground of art styles, which not many artists try to do. If you were to divide comic art into two major style types, you could say one half is emotional (focuses on expressions, body language, and simple lines; i.e., manga, many indie styles), and the other is based on technical precision (focuses on perfect anatomy, and much more detailed; i.e., Marvel/DC styles).
I try to apply what I feel are the strengths to both styles. Other people who I feel have done this well are artists like Humberto Ramos, J. Scott Campbell and Michael Turner. I love striving to find that perfect balance of strengths in my own work, but I still have a ways to go.
BSB: How about in collaboration? Do you prefer to work “Marvel-style” or with a full script?
RDL: I prefer scripts that give as much freedom to me as an artist as possible. I don’t mind if a script gives me direction in places that are critical to the story, though.
BSB: Is there one project you’ve worked on so far that you feel really encapsulates your approach to comics? I really hate those “choose your favorite child” questions, but to put it another way – which are you most proud of?
RDL: If I had to pick, I’d say The Last Unicorn, because that was a story I grew up passionate about and implemented a lot of myself into the artwork. I would say later this year I would change that answer to Peter Pan, because I put even more of myself into that as I also adapted the original story into comic book form.
BSB: Name a comic or creator (or creative team) past or present that pushes you, inspires you, or drives you into fits of creative despair.
RDL: In the past I remember having fits of despair looking at J. Scott Campbell’s artwork, and some mangas that just boggled my mind how they managed to create such emotion in their work. I remember when I was an early teen, comparing my art with them and just feeling terrible about my work, thinking I could never go anywhere or be as good as these artists. I actually still feel much the same way from time to time, when faced with amazing artwork. It helps me to realize that no matter how good you get, there is always going to be someone better than you. All you can do is become the best you can be, so focus on improving yourself, not comparing to others.
I think what pushes me forward the most is my own extremely critical eye of my own work. I’m always zeroing in on the flaws and trying to fix them. I think if one stops being critical of their work, they would also stop improving.
BSB: What “dream” projects of yours have yet to see the light of day?
RDL: Well, there is one in particular that hasn’t seen the light of day, but is happening! I cannot say what it is yet. But I am writing and drawing a character that I feel could make a difference if represented in a certain way. So cross your fingers it all goes well!
As for things that haven’t happened yet, I would love to draw a Harry Potter comic someday, and I also have a few creator-owned stories I’d love work on someday, like Lady Power Punch (a full-figured super heroine) and another sci-fi story about a robot and a baby at the end of the world. I also would love to draw an Aliens comic someday! As you can see, my interests are a bit scattered about.
BSB: Fingers crossed! I bet a lot of people, myself included, would be interested to hear what you think makes for a successful Kickstarter campaign. So… what makes for a successful Kickstarter campaign?
1. MAKE A GREAT VIDEO! They. Are. Necessary! So many people try to find reasons to diminish the need for one, but many potential backers do not even read the information on the page. They only look at the video. If you do not have a great one or don’t have one at all, then you have already missed a giant chance to attract backers. Beyond that, the video is your one opportunity to convey the feeling/message of your project with sound and motion. If your video doesn’t feel right, take the extra time to make it perfect. It is more worth the effort than anything else you could do.
2. MAKE SURE YOU PRICE REALISTICALLY. Too many people end up late or end up in the hole money-wise because of improper pricing and initial goal amounts. You will mostly likely need to price higher than alike items in a major store. The individual creator has to spend more in printing, shipping, and time than books backed by a publisher who often have mass printing/shipping deals and hired help to take care of all the details.
So my own rule of thumb, whatever the entire fulfillment cost for a particular KS Reward is for you (printing + shipping + packaging per item) double it, and that is the MINIMUM your item should be priced at. That extra amount helps you pay for production, taxes, fees, and a buffer (which is necessary for returns, dropped pledges, general mistakes and miscalculations, etc.). If you don’t give yourself enough funding to finish your project, then you are more likely to be late, not finish at all, or dig yourself a hole financially.
3. USE A GREAT COVER IMAGE. You would be surprised how such a little thing could affect a campaign so much, but it does. This is the first thing people see when it comes to your project. It needs to be clear and interesting enough to grab attention away from all the other Kickstarter images that you see. Make sure the image you use is not a far shot of a panel you like, or an overly detailed cover. It often needs to be just one or a few characters, or something that symbolizes your project well and can be understood clearly, even at a small size. And it needs to be in color! Not black and white.
4. MAKE THE CORE REWARD TIER IMPORTANT. Be sure that your core reward (which is often the cheapest level at which you can get a physical book; you will sell the most rewards from this tier) is highlighted and not cluttered with a lot of “extras.” You need to let the physical book shine in its own reward tier. You can have higher reward tiers with more attached, but most people just want the book, not the extras. Make it easy for them to find it and back it by itself.
5. PROMOTE EVERYWHERE. Even beyond the usual social media of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. (and your project should have its own page on each) go out and contact blogs—any blog, even if it has two readers; any talk of your project is good talk—new sites, anywhere online, and ask if they would be interested in posting about your project to help get the word out. Some helpful etiquette, you should be confident in your project, but don’t act like they’re lucky to be posting about your amazing project. You are asking for their help, so be appreciative, and definitely offer them a small ad/big thank you in your book, or a mention them on your site in return for them helping you out.
If you want to go further, you can contact local newspapers and news channels to cover you (we did this for Peter Pan). Most of the time they love helping promote local creators.
BSB: Comic Kickstarters are a dime a dozen, and Womanthology was among the best examples of a Kickstarter done right. Why do so many others fail?
RDL: Womanthology was my first Kickstarter, and I made my share of mistakes with it, but I learned a lot. Looking back, I see the major driving force to the campaign was the amazing community supporting it. It was an outlet to support something many people felt should be given attention. Without everyone involved rooting it onward, I am positive it would not have been as successful.
I also feel there were some things in the campaign design that lent to its success. With so many creators involved on such a charged topic, and with so many rewards being offered, it would have been so easy to muddle the message of what we were trying to do. So to combat that I tried to make sure everything in the campaign reflected a clear message that it was a project of community and positivity, nothing else. I do not think people would have gotten behind it in the way they did without that aura of goodness around it.
But to be more concise with what I’m trying to say, I feel many Kickstarters fail because they are not clear on what the message of their project is in their presentation. You need to make it easy and quick for backers to understand just what exactly they are backing.
BSB: Female creators have been around in comics for quite a while, but it’s only recently that women like Gail Simone and Fiona Staples have gained ”name recognition” in a big way. Why do you think that’s the case?
RDL: I absolutely agree, I think women in comics are on the upswing. I have a feeling this is mostly due to a couple things;
1. During the “comics boom” of the ‘90s, a lot of women and girls became interested in comics for the first time. I was one of those kids. Now many of those girls, like me, are grown and practiced enough to take their love of creating comics to a professional level.
2. Social sites make it much easier to connect with other female creators, which lends a sense of community and support, and has really helped us become bolder in putting ourselves out there creatively.
BSB: Thanks for your time, Renae! I think you hit this one out of the park! I’m going to run now, as I think I’m all out of good questions. It’s a lot to chew on, especially Kickstarter.