Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Crystal Fractals Q&A: Howard Wong chats 'Redorik,' Indiegogo campaign

Howard Wong
Last week I chatted with Crystal Fractal Comics Publisher Derrek Lennox about the Redorik series and the ongoing Indiegogo campaign to complete the series as a 96-page graphic novel. This week I caught up with the series' writer Howard Wong, who chatted about his work, his storytelling processess, social media and crowdfunding campaigns and the prospect of finishing Redorik.

Andrew Ardizzi: You're mostly known for your work on After the Cape, and have obviously written Redorik for Crystal Fractal Comics. For those unfamiliar with your work, what can you tell fans about you, your work and how you approach writing as a whole.

Howard Wong: My first published comic was After the Cape, a mini-series I created with Marco Rudy and was published by Image Comics/Shadowline. I was nominated for a Shuster award for it, which was very humbling. It’s a dark tale about a retired superhero who finds himself struggling to make ends meet in the city he once protected with his life. He’s feeling lost in a world he thought he once knew, while failing at raising his family. He turns to alternative means to do so, which resulted in him making hard life choices. It continued with a tragic end in the second miniseries, After the Cape II, which concluded that story arc. I’ve also contributed to short stories such as Grunts: War Stories from Arcana Comics, which was nominated for Comic Buyer’s Guide Fan Favorite Graphic Novel. The story is titled, Iron Snake and tells the harrowing backstory of Lt. Kiko before he joins up with the squad from the regular miniseries. More recently I contributed to Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology, with a story titled Master Tortoise and Master Hare. It’s a retelling of The Tortoise and the Hare, where instead of racing they use martial arts. I wrote this with the intention of showing how the same age old story can have an Asian take and still have the universal appeal and understanding like that of the original. No matter if it’s a full-on miniseries or a short story for an anthology, the approach is the same. You look at where you want to take your story and find the best way in getting there:

'After the Cape' #1 cover image
Do you take a direct approach or one that weaves its way to your destination?

Will it be full of simple or complex paths?

Where you start, is how a story ends. That to me, is the easiest way to start the construction of a good story. Knowing your ending helps define how you’ll resolve the great conflict of your story, which will then allow you to see the different ways at getting to that conflict. So yes, you work your way backwards, but it works. Besides the story, it helps you figure out how your characters will develop and be changed after everything is resolved.

AA: When you're writing, what sort of mental space are you in? Say, for example, do you become immersed within your project, or do you maybe do a little at a time and come back to it frequently?

HW: I have a few things on the go at the same time, but like to focus on one for the bulk of the day. I just find it easier to stay in that writing mode if I juggle my time between projects. It’s not for everyone for sure, but it works for me. Sometimes I create wonderful scenes when I work on something that’s perfect for another story. So I take notes (a lot of notes), which fuels the writing of another story I’m working on from wanting to bring those ideas to life.

AA: Bringing it back to Redorik, it's been some time since the initial concept was presented to you by Derrek. How did the project first come about?

HW: Derrek came up to me and talked to me about his plans for the Crystal Fractal Universe, and how Redorik would play a role in it. What caught my interest was why Justin took on a superhero role and where it could possibly go. In other words, Redorik not being a traditional superhero tale is what drew me in. Derrek was kind enough to let me come up with ideas for it and with his added input, Redorik was born. A dark and twisted superhero story with surprises around every corner that pushes the moral justification of a hero’s choice; kill him or let him go? Save him or let the bully that beats me up at school die?

'Redorik' #1 cover image
AA:  How did you go about crafting Derrek's basic premise for the Justin Henderson character and what personality traits did you hone in on to make it more of a relatable character?

HW: I think most people would agree that the teen years are filled with insecurities, which become the nucleus of how one makes choices, who they hang out with and so forth. This was something that I wanted to push a bit, since Justin has more than one voice telling him what to do. Call it his "Jiminy Cricket," but this voice is anything but there to really help him. Insecurities lead to self-doubt, which is something that we began playing out with the first issue. It’s something that will open Justin up to a world of questionable justifications to his choices he’ll be making. 

AA: What interests you most about the character?

HW: When you take the typical superhero, they are shown as these “indestructible” people. Be it physically or emotionally. Deep down there is a lot happening behind the mask, but they use all of it to be the hero. For Justin, you first see him as a typical teen doing dumb things to impress a girl, but what he thinks is himself convincing him that he’s doing the right thing, is anything but. If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust? It was this part of the character, the part where you justify the choices you make and the intentions of those choices, that interested me the most.

Think of Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Punisher, etc. They justify their reasoning and actions, perhaps under the guise of being a hero. We’ll be seeing first hand, this aspect through Justin becoming what he thinks is a superhero. What if the inner workings that gave someone the courage to face the impossible are tainted? That’s what I think makes Justin an interesting character.

AA: For those of us in know, so to speak, we all have a rough idea of where Justin's story is heading. Without giving too much of the plot away, what do you find to be interesting about his story, and bringing it back to the initial discussions, what made you want to take on the project?

HW: Justin has just been exposed to the grey parts of the world he lives in, and at the same time begins to really manifest his abilities, but has no clue what they are and how to work them. His mind is becoming unhinged and what happens next is him being built up into something that will break him in more ways than one. Every decision he makes, every action he commits to, opens him up to a darkness that will attempt to consume him.

Page 1 of 'Redorik
That’s what is interesting to me. Seeing how far I could push Justin’s character in these situations (some really off-the-wall situations) that in other stories turns them into heroes or villains. Justin will be neither, or maybe both. It depends on your perspective of things.

Derrek was great with letting me take Redorik to where I could, and I made it clear at the start that I was going to feed in connections to his overall universe, but not make it so no reader could just pick up Redorik and enjoy it for what it is on its own.

AA: Obviously only the first issue of Redorik has been released, but given the changes going on across the comics medium as a whole, we've shifted gears a bit and are surging ahead with completing the entire initial four-part arc as a graphic novel. Whether readers have or haven't read the first issue, what can readers expect over the first arc?

HW: They are going to dive into his world and then find out that it goes way deeper than even Justin knows. The first issue didn’t show all the players involved yet, so there’s a big reveal that will show just how seemingly impossible the odds are for Justin to get back to being normal. We’re going to see the shades of grey that make up Justin’s world and how everything is connected to him—as an unwilling conduit. The fight that he’ll have goes far beyond the physical. Justin will be battling a metaphysical/psychological war that bleeds onto everyone who’s connected to him; drowning them into his world.

AA: What are you most looking forward to?

HW:Honestly? Having the completed story in people’s hands. I’ve wanted to finish this story for quite some time now, so for me, it’s just getting it done and out there to see what people think. 

AA: A huge part of any comic is obviously the artwork. Pedro Maia did a fantastic job with issue one, especially the pages where Caregiver transforms. Of his work in the first issue, what was the most memorable page for you?

HW: That’s actually one of my favorite scenes that I wrote for him to draw. Bathing in burning light never looked so good, er, bad. Some may not know that he does it all. Pencils, inks and colours. He’s a triple threat!

AA: We talked a little about how the comic medium is changing. Especially with indie creators and companies, more and more are shifting towards the graphic novel format or doing digital releases online and then collecting those issues as a trade. How do you view the current indie market, both as a fan and as a creator? What catches your attention?

HW: I’m a fan first and creator second. I think it makes sense when you look at comics from different parts of the world. They basically gravitate to producing a complete story, which people appreciate. I like that concept of storytelling. It’s easier for you to get deeper into the story and characters. I know that some feel that the single issues are valued more. They’re collectable, etc. Why can’t a graphic novels be just as appreciated?

As for digital comics, I think we need to continue progressing from having traditional comic book storytelling and really own the digital format. We need to keep experimenting and pushing the envelope and find the best way to use this medium. That’s the thing, isn’t it? People are afraid of trying new things and making mistakes, but why? How can we learn without them? How can figure out the elements we need to hone to really make digital comics something special? I hope that creators keep pushing the digital format into something well beyond just another marketing branch to sell hardcopies. I’ll always love holding the book I’m reading, but can’t wait to see what digital comics can really become in the future.

AA: How important do you feel social media is now when it comes to promoting your work and connecting with fans, while also trying to attract new readers to your work?

HW: Social media is such an invaluable and viable tool for any industry these days. Be it selling products to providing a service, social media plays a key role in keeping and expanding your market. For comics, it’s a direct line to your fans and the best way in attracting new ones. It’s a like an ongoing comic convention, but a lot more intimate. It allows you to talk with creators, comment on their artwork, and look at what your favorite creator is up to. Could you imagine not having social media and trying to promote anything today? So to answer your question, very important.

The original red and white logo design for 'Redorik.'

AA: Another recent huge development for indie comics have been crowdfunding campaigns, such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo. What role do they play, from your point of view, and what advantages are there with these fan-driven projects?

HW: I think crowdfunding was just a natural evolution of how things get made from the seeds planted from social media. People wondered where social media was going to go. We’ve seen the web banners, direct advertising, etc. but when you really think about it, doesn’t it make sense that when you have a voice that can be heard by everyone in your social network, for you to have a say in something?

So crowdfunding has given people a place where they get to use that voice to help things they believe in or want to see made. Those that donate have a passion and a belief that their say in something does and should mean something. Through crowdfunding, it does. Things get done and made, which enriches the marketplace.

For comics, it has given an alternative route to get your work out there, which is terrific! Not only that, but you build a fan base along the way. Knowing other creators that were successful with their campaigns, and being a part of now two myself, I can say that a lot of work, a whole lot of work, goes into them. You work as hard campaigning as you do making the actual comic if you can believe that. It’s no easy task, but it’s one that is fueled with a passion in making a comic. That kind of passion will see you over many hurdles, that otherwise would make campaigning seem overwhelming.

I also believe that it will help with the furthering of the digital comic format, since creators will be able to experiment with the medium from the funds raised. It’s really an exciting time for making comics. Web comics allowed an inexpensive way to publish your work and now with crowdfunding you are able to go further. Further not only by your passion, but by the passion of others who believe in your vision.

AA: Is it rewarding to find that support from fans?

HW: Knowing that there are passionate people who believe in your vision, so much so they are generous enough to donate their own hard-earned money to make it happen, is amazing. The feeling you get isn’t so much one of accomplishment, but rather humbled by the huge wave of support in what you’re doing. It’s really all that support that makes any, and I believe, all crowdfunded projects something uniquely special. 

AA: We recently kicked off our own Indiegogo campaign, in hopes of completing the four-part "Origins of Redorik" trade. Are you excited by the prospect of getting to finish your story?

HW: It’s a story I’ve been waiting to tell for a while now, one where there will be so many emotions and psychological twists that I can’t wait for people to dive into it all, so yes. Very.

AA: Just to wrap things up, is there anything else you'd like to say to your fans, followers or about "Redorik?"

HW: I’ve been away from comics working in videogames among other things for a bit, but I’m back at it (do any of us really leave?). So, to my fans who continue to support me and have waited so patiently for my next endeavor, you guys are freaking awesome (and really need a hobby)! 

I’ve been writing (a lot) and hope to be announcing the fruits of my labour soon. You can follow my blog, or find me on Facebook and Twitter for updates about all of that and other junk.

Those that are looking for a psychological superhero story of turmoil that does not tread on the worn path towards donning the mask, one that drives the supposed hero to justify questionable choices, only to fall further into a sinister world of his own doing, Redorik is for you (and your family and friends. Maybe even your pet goldfish too).

Lastly, never forget, you can never have enough bacon. Never!


Thanks to Howard for taking the time to chat and definitely check out his work, all of which is available on Amazon, while you can find him on Facebook, Twitter and through his blog for any updates on his work. If you'd like to learn more about Crystal Fractal Comics, definitely poke around the blog, or if you'd like to contribute to our Indiegogo campaign to complete Redorik, you can follow this link to our campaign page. There you'll find plenty of preview images from the first issue, Thanks for reading!


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