Arts Desk

Meet a Local Comics Writer: A Chat With Damian Wampler

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Damian Wampler is a fledgling comic-book writer temporarily based in Arlington. While in the area, he is trying to crowdfund his graphic novel, Sevara, which he hopes will be available in shops and on Amazon in the spring of 2015. In advance of Wampler's appearance at Vienna's Game On! Comics and Games Wednesday evening, Washington City Paper asked him some questions about his process, future plans, and background.

Washington City Paper: How do you make your work? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?

Damian Wampler: I send my scripts to Andre Siregar in Indonesia, who does the line art digitally. He then sends the files to Anang who does the color, also digitally. When looking for artists, I specifically requested that they work 100 percent digitally. I wanted to be able to see the results quickly, have the ability to suggest edits, and get the files to the printer easily.

WCP: How did you find your artists?

DW: I spent a year looking for artists online who could do realistic people, female figures, animal forms, and technology from all time periods. The person had to have a considerable artistic range and still be able to do emotions and body language. I mostly searched on Deviantart.com, but also forums and other portfolio websites. I posted ads and even approached big comic book artists found on comiconart.com. Since I'm funding this out of my own pocket, I had to find an emerging artist, as the professionals are way out of my price range. Eventually an art agency pointed me to Andre and I am working with him directly.

WCP: When and where were you born?

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DW: I was born and raised in Delaware the same year the original Star Wars was released.

WCP: Why are you in Washington now?  What neighborhood or area do you live in?

DW: I live in Arlington with my wife and son. I'm doing an eight-month training course before I go overseas again.

WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

DW: I'm a playwright and visual artist. I studied English literature at Boston University, and produced two plays on campus. I produced a full-length play in New York City in 2009 called Twin Towers. At that time I was also studying digital photography at the School of Visual Arts. I originally wrote Sevara as a play, but my job took me overseas and I found I wasn't able to produce the play. I adapted it as a comic book and it turns out it really works better that way. Sevara is a science-fiction epic that spans millions of years, so this medium is more appropriate. I basically taught myself how to write comic-book scripts, but my background in photography and drama helped me a great deal.

WCP: Who are your influences?

DW: I grew up reading Dark Horse comics, mostly Ghost and Aliens titles. I was never big into DC or Marvel or any superhero titles, but occasionally picked up some Image books. Of course, I always had Batman: Year One, Watchmen, and some other major graphic novels checked out from the library at any given time. I read tons of science-fiction and fantasy novels growing up, from classics like Ray Bradbury to Piers Anthony to Tolkien to Herbert.

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I am a huge movie fan as well. I think the best writing these days is in cable TV shows, though; they have been the largest influences when it comes to story arcs, characters, pacing, and drama. There was nothing like this on TV when I was younger. TV shows and comic books are episodic, and I think the serialized nature of shows like Spartacus, Game of Thrones, Rome, Band of Brothers, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and a half dozen others, have taught me a lot more about extended storytelling and character than films or books. [Meanwhile,] Hollywood blockbusters seem to be getting worse.

Now, Matt Fraction's rule-breaking Hawkeye and Brian Wood's Star Wars are major influences when it comes to storytelling. Lazarus has excellent pacing, and East of West has great world building. Sevara has a disjointed structure similar to The Wake, which is also wonderful, and these have all influenced me. Sevara is mostly influenced by contemporary world events however, so watching the news and traveling the world has influenced this project.

WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do over or change?

DW: I would have been more aggressive about photography and art much earlier. Maybe I would have gone to photography school earlier, or moved to New York City earlier. I waited too long to follow my dreams. You should never wait. Once I started pursuing my passion, I was much happier.

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WCP: What work are you best known for?

DW: Nothing of great importance yet. I have two prints in the Brooklyn Museum and a children's book on Amazon, but I'm not famous for anything.

WCP: What work are you most proud of?

DW: I'm very proud of Sevara, particularly because I'm not trained in comic-book writing and managed to find a publisher and get this off the ground myself. I never would have been able to do this without the Internet. All of my information comes from websites that provide instruction on how to make comic books, so I'm very grateful to be alive in this age.

WCP: What would you like to do  or work on in the future?

DW: I'd like to continue writing Sevara for a long time and become an expert in the craft. I'm not good enough to take on anyone else's property, but I can perfect my character and my world.

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WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

DW: Two things. One is to watch documentaries, particularly the History Channel. Going to the Smithsonian works just as well. Second, talking to people and hearing their stories. Older people have a particular tendency to tell you their stories, so you just have to listen. Documentaries and museums are also about stories, so you just have to get out there and listen to real life stories. Truth is stranger than fiction, really. You always find something interesting to include in your work. Reading other people's work and watching movies only shows you the surface of other people's stories, not their inspiration.

WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?

DW: Comic books are on the rise, after an almost fatal collapse not long ago. I think digital sales will rise, and hopefully comic book stores will rebound. Comic-book distribution is a major problem, there aren't many shops and they are always in out-of-the-way locations. Game On! Comics in Vienna did a very smart thing, they opened a comic book cart in the Ballston Mall in Arlington, that's where I pick up my subscriptions to Ghost, Hawkeye, and Star Wars. If every comic book shop in America would open up a few mall carts, comic-book sales would soar and creators would be able to make a living.

WCP: What local cons do you attend? The Small Press Expo, Intervention, or others? Any comments about attending them?

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DW: I plan to be at the Tri-State Comic Con in West Virginia in May. I'll be overseas during the 2014 Small Press Expo, but I'll try to make as many local cons as I can before my training ends. I'm new to comic books, so the whole scene is new to me.

WCP: What's your favorite thing about D.C.?

DW: Public schools, public libraries, public parks, museums... free stuff, you get the idea. My son and I carried home a stack of books from the library today, and we went to the Smithsonian yesterday. It is important to be surrounded by history and culture and books at a young age.

WCP: Least favorite?

DW: D.C. is a bit conservative for me, I would like to find edgy young artists to hang out with but I feel like this is not the place.

WCP: What monument or museum do like to take visitors to?

DW: The Air and Space Museum out at Dulles is a marvel. I feel that people don't know about it.

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WCP: How about a favorite local restaurant?

DW: Marvin on 14th and U, hands down. I've been dreaming about their mussels and pommes frites for about two years now. I've got to lose a few pounds before I go back there though. The chicken and waffles sticks to your ribs.

WCP: Do you have a website or blog?

DW: My personal website is damianwampler.com and my website for Sevara is sevarawillrise.com. Each one has a link to its own blog, and I'm focusing all my energy on Sevara right now with the Kickstarter campaign that ends Feb. 26 (my birthday, not coincidentally).

Wampler appears at 5 p.m. on Feb. 5 at Game On! Comics, 310 Dominion Road NE, Vienna.

wampler at Game on

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  • http://www.popediting.net Katherine Pickett

    Great interview! I would love to hear more about crowdfunding book projects. When readers support your work so much they will donate to the cause of creation, you are, in a way, reverse-engineering book publishing. I suppose it's similar to having your work commissioned. But then, will anyone buy your book when it is completed?

  • Mike Rhode

    Katherine, it's been pretty successful in the comic book / graphic novel world, sometimes stunningly so. Try the sites for Newsarama and Comic Book Resources for accounts.

    Of course, one doesn't hear much about the failures.

  • http://www.sevarawillrise.com Damian Wampler

    Hi Katherine, great questions! Let me answer in detail because I feel so strongly about some of these issues.

    First off, yes, crowdfunding is essentially like getting a grant from a foundation or getting an advance from a publisher, except much more democratic. The public gets to decide what they want to see realized. The public will look at your work at the pitch level and decide if they'd like to read it, regardless of the product's market viability which drives the decisions of the major publishers.

    The next part is more tricky - will anyone buy the book when it is completed? The better question is - CAN anyone buy the book when it is completed. I don't know much about novels or music albums on Kickstarter, but many comic books simply disappear after they are Kickstarted, and there are a few reasons why.

    First, some of the comics simply don't end up being good enough for the market. If creators don't have editors, they may find that comic book companies or stores don't want to buy the product. In most cases however, I don't think the comic book creators are even pitching the book to publishers at all. Once the comic book is finished, it looks like many Kickstarter comic book projects simply print the copies they need for their backers and then move on, perhaps doing another Kickstarter comic book. Why? The creator makes a lot more money that way! Pitching a comic book to publishers is a lot of work, and marketing that book to retailers is even harder. And the return is minimal in comics. Once the retail comic book shop takes a cut, and the distribution company takes a cut, the comic book creator is only making a few dimes profit per book. And since there are only 2,000 comic book shops in the country, you have to imagine that an unknown author would make almost no money from trying to sell a comic book at shops. If the creator has only a single issue, the chances are even slimmer, since comics are serialized - readers want to subscribe to a comic book and get a new issue every month. Comic book distributors want to see 4 or more completed issues. With Kickstarter, you'd be making one comic book a year.

    What about digital comics? Sure, you don't have to pay for printing, retail costs and distribution costs, but what people don't realize is that Apple and Google take a huge cut of digital sales when the sale is made on their mobile platforms, iOS or Android. Yes, huge. Big enough to make it almost not worthwhile.

    So its actually more profitable to Kickstart a comic book and not market it to retailers, particularly if you are an accomplished creator with a huge fan following. If it costs $3,500 to make a comic book and 100 backers pledge $4,500 on your Kickstarter campaign, you'll be doing much better printing these 100 comics and walking away than printing 2,000 comics and trying to sell them to comic book shops. You just print 100 copies of your book and you're done. Those 2,000 books are non-returnable once they are printed at a little less than $1 a pop. And if comic book shops don't want them, you're stuck with them.

    Sadly, once a Kickstarter campaign is over, it is hard to find the comic books that were Kickstarted. I'd love to see a section on Amazon where successful Kickstarter campaigns could sell their products, like books, CDs, comic books and tech. Maybe it would be called Kickstarted or something like that, so you could easily find all those cool products that were crowdfunded.

    As far as Sevara goes, I'm lucky to have a publisher, Broken Icon Comics, and an awesome team of editors and marketing guru's behind me. Broken Icon Comics has their graphic novels on Amazon, and they are moving into comic book shops and retails stores. By the time the Sevara graphic novel is done, you'll be able to buy it at hundreds if not thousands of locations. I hope to use the profits from those sales to fund the next volume of Sevara, issues 3-5. Sevara will only be Kickstarted once, and then I'll try to make it on my own. So in closing, after then Kickstarter campaign ends on February 26, go to http://www.brokeniconcomics.com or http://www.sevarawillrise.com to find out where you can buy your own copy of Sevara! - Damian

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