Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

July 21, 2013

CR Comic-Con 2013 Interview: Allison Baker, Chris Roberson



Allison Baker and Chris Roberson are Monkeybrain Comics, the digital comics publisher whose Bandette (from Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover) won this weekend's Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic. Roberson's background is in writing, both prose and comics, while Baker has had and still enjoys a career in film and political media. They launched Monkeybrain Comics in 2012 as a place to facilitate Roberson's on-line comics work but quickly expanded it to include a variety of work from comics-makers they personally enjoy. Roberson's move to a variety of publishing avenues and away from working at DC Comics was a significant news story during a volatile 2012 in the mainstream comics world.

I wanted to interview someone involved in digital comics for this year's Comic-Con spotlight. I sat with the couple for about an hour on convention Saturday on a balcony of the Hilton Bayfront's bar. I'm grateful for their time. -- Tom Spurgeon


imageTOM SPURGEON: The night before we're speaking was the 2013 Eisner Awards. Bandette won Best Digital Comic. The nominations themselves were a big deal for you as well. I wondered what was important to you and to Monkeybrain about that specific recognition. Was it that the work had penetrated in a way that reached a specific audience? Because obviously it's a good comic, it's Eisner-worthy without the imprimatur of an actual nomination. There couldn't be doubts about that. So what was it about that recognition that was good for you guys?

CHRIS ROBERSON: It was pretty multi-faceted. On the one hand, just the fact that it reflects a certain level awareness. We thought we'd spend the first year, at least, just out there beating the bushes and letting people know we existed. It was really gratifying to get that recognition. And... it's a great comic. But also the fact that Colleen was nominated along with artists that are working in print and that the comic was nominated for Best New Series without any qualification.

Allison has been making the point that digital is just a delivery system; it's not a different medium. We're rapidly approaching a point where there's no longer going to be a reason to make that distinction.

ALLISON BAKER: I said that on a digital-first panel yesterday, and everybody on the panel agreed with me: Hank Kanalz, Mark Waid, Jeff Webber from IDW. I said I thought the nominations meant we're moving past talking about digital comics as digital comics, and just talking about them as comics.

SPURGEON: So you think we've started to reach that saturation point. I suspect that a lot of people reading this haven't made that commitment yet. What is that has helped some of us turn that corner? Is it just the ubiquity of appliances? Do we have a certain set of delivery mechanisms we didn't have before. Is it just the fact that we have so many tablets now? What helps us break down those distinctions.

ROBERSON: I think we're seeing similar things in other media. I missed all of the announcements, but I believe House Of Cards scored several Emmy nominations. I see a lot of parallels there. In large part I do think it's the proliferation of the devices. Everybody carries these incredibly complicated computers in their pockets now. A lot of people are reading comics on their phones in addition to the tablets. We here anecdotally all of the time about people discovering digital comics they can read while sitting on a plane or riding a train or something.

BAKER: Technology in general has completely changed the way we receive our entertainment.

SPURGEON: You've hit your one-year anniversary. You received the Eisner nominations and the win last night. You indicated that this might put you ahead of schedule a bit. Or at least this signified that potential. Where did you think you were going to be? And is there a snapshot of where you are? I mean, is there a plan?

ROBERSON: No. [laughter] Our plan when we launched is try not to embarrass ourselves and to try and do right by the creators we're working with. Allison originally built the model as something for me to self-publish the stuff that I and my collaborators would do. Then we realized there was an advantage, a strength-in-numbers type thing, to opening it up to our friends.

BAKER: Everything was an accident, I think. There was no plan.

SPURGEON: Describe to me something that was an accident. Was that someone who came to you, say?

BAKER: What happens with projects that come to us or people we went to initially having the time to do thing with us they want to do with us a year ago... I just figure out the best way to promote that. We're just doing it as we go along, because there's no reason to have a real publication schedule or a deadline to hit because we don't have to solicit anything. I don't want to do press on anything until it's available for sale. When a project comes to us, we then figure out the best way to do that project.

SPURGEON: One of the reasons it's been argued comics has done relatively well in terms of media enterprises as a bunch of them have recently collapsed is that comics has an ingrained structure. You kind of know where you're going with comics. You might read a newspaper comic every day, or buy a collection once a year from Andrews McMeel. You might even follow a strip on two collection tracks. And of course there's the comics shop with their regular Wednesday release schedules. You're replicated some of that, but is it hard to find that structure, that element of a backbone for what you're doing? I ask because as you note, other media are trying with things like binge-watching on TV, to dismantle their own inherent structures. Is it important to you to develop an infrastructure of expectation? Is it difficult?

ROBERSON: It's been a process of... I don't want to say "trial and error" so let's say "experimentation." We've tried things on different days and promoting them in various ways. Since the digital market is growing out of the Direct Market -- we found that structurally there were advantages in borrowing elements of that model. People have been trained to get new stuff on Wednesdays. I know that DC is trying to do something with different days.

BAKER: They're doing something every day of the week, I think.

ROBERSON: We've found that we got the most attention doing it on New Comics Day. I think that might possibly change over time. I think it's interesting because I see the Direct Market as constituted, I see it as this lifeboat that saved the shattered remnants of the newsstand market in the '70s and '80s. I think the digital thing is going to replicate that model for a long time.

BAKER: What digital does is bring the newsstand back into the equation.

SPURGEON: Because of...?

BAKER: Because of the accessibility.

ROBERSON: But also the immediacy. We don't do months of promotion ahead of time, we don't have sneaks, peaks and plot development shit announced. People can just pick up having no idea what something is or what's going to happen next. What I do like, though, is that my reading tastes are fairly catholic. I like that as time has gone on our line has become more and more diverse in terms of the things we offer. Just getting Jen Vaughn's book in there... I think we're starting to get something that more closely resembles my bookshelf in terms of the variety of it.

SPURGEON: You're a writer. The first reaction to confronting working with an arts business is to think of you as a longtime worker who is now grasping at the means of production. But you were involved with previous distribution models in some ways.

ROBERSON: We were a traditional off-set small press for ten years.

SPURGEON: So it's not like this kind of thing is brand new to you in the most general terms. Is there a significant advantage to having done this kind of thing before as opposed to starting cold?

BAKER: The entire model where we have no capital risk is built on the fact that I didn't want to do that again. [laughs]

ROBERSON: We lost a succession of shirts over the years. And built up not a staggering amount of debt but an amount that would make people gasp on Oprah if we were getting financial advice. We didn't have a boat to show for it or anything, it was just a bunch of books on the shelf.

BAKER: We had a bunch of books. Yay! [laughter]

ROBERSON: We wanted to do comics for a very long time, but there's just so much capital risk involved even in printing the damn things.

BAKER: That's before page rates for artists, even.

ROBERSON: We just couldn't make it work. So we spent... I think it was about a year... we spent every night out on our patio with drinks talking about how you could do it. How to do things better. We are never going to go out of business. There's no risk. We'll continue to do this as long as we want.

BAKER: The only risk we've put out there on the table is our time. The same with the creators.

SPURGEON: And who cares about your time?

ROBERSON: Well, it's fun!

BAKER: It's not my time and my money. It's just my time. [laughter]

ROBERSON: Other people might play videogames. Or take vacations, things like that. [Baker laughs]

BAKER: Or sleep.

ROBERSON: We dick around with Adobe products for fun.

BAKER: Whee!

SPURGEON: So you think you can do this for as long as you want. You've talked about your creators a bit. Can we talk about your first year in terms of what this has meant for your creators? How successful is it for the creators? Can we ballpark that? Like is anyone making over $20,000 yet from their comics?

ROBERSON: No. Oh, God no. [Baker laughs]

SPURGEON: What is a realistic expectation for a creator?

ROBERSON: The money has been modest. But it's constant and growing. I've yet to come up with the best way to phrase this, but everything that's been published so far generates money every month. Every chapter, every issue, has generated some amount of money.

SPURGEON: That's not an insignificant thing in comics. The catalog model, like Fantagraphics used in the 1990s, one of the advantages is that someone like Jaime Hernandez is almost always earning for the first work he did in comics however many years ago. If you accumulate work, you can make some okay money there... it's the predecessor to the Internet's long tail.

BAKER: The first issue of everything we do will always be the best-selling issue of that title. It sells every single month. Someone always starts. We recently got numbers for May. We did a sale and a promotion for Amelia Cole when the first issue in the second volume came out, on that issue and issues from the previous volume. Every issue sold the same amount.


ROBERSON: With a variance of maybe like a dozen.

BAKER: It was a big number, double what it normally does. When we started, no one could predict what the numbers would be. They have been above and beyond what comiXology ever thought we would do.

ROBERSON: For three months now our total income has bounced up about 50 percent a month. March April May, April was 50 percent greater than March and May was 50 percent greater than April. That's not going to continue every month.

SPURGEON: So what market mechanisms need to fall into place for this enterprise to be more profitable for the creators?

BAKER: It's time to build, and time for the market to grow more significantly. We're not the only monetization piece for the creators. When they sell their print collections through another publisher, that's another monetary stream for them.

ROBERSON: They keep all the media rights and all that stuff, so if they make a TV show or do merchandising or whatever...

BAKER: Making t-shirts. It's the same model as a lot of webcomics and mini-comics except the one exception is that you're making some initial money on-line.,

ROBERSON: So rather than serializing it for free on a web site and selling a collection afterwards, there's a little bit of money coming in every month.

BAKER: And then you get it under umbrella, which hopefully means more people find out about it.

SPURGEON: Do you see that in terms of a simple trade-off, then, when you contrast it to the free serialization model. You're simply getting a little more money during that process? Is that the benefit. Do you have suspicions that the free model may not be the panacea for everyone that is sometimes suggested of it?

ROBERSON: I like the free model. But I think it can be problematic. It's easy to lose track of those things. And there's so much great stuff. I adore what StudyGroup does, but it's difficult to keep up. Tom Scioli, guys like that. Using comiXology, I guess you can get it in satisfying chunks -- to use Heidi [MacDonald]'s term. But now there's some money, too. Now that comiXology has instituted a subscription model, you're even alerted as to when the new work shows up -- it does that work for you. And it means a bit of money during the serialization process.

BAKER: We're doing very well with their subscription service because apparently our customers very loyal. [laughs]

SPURGEON: How is your relationship with comiXology different than when you started?

BAKER: There's like a million more people working there now.

SPURGEON: They've grown incredibly rapidly. Has that meant better service? Do you have fewer nerds or are you more needy now?

BAKER: I have more of a support system. I have a very open communicative relationship with them. I feel like everything they do to make their reading experience better helps me.

ROBERSON: They're fairly tireless, too. The one thing they have to offer is a positive experience -- because there are other ways to get digital comics, and there are new ways coming out all of the time. But they are just continually refining that system.

BAKER: Really it's a tech company that's learning to do book sales. Which is completely different. It's a very weird combination of things going together. Explaining to tech people that here is something that this is why something needs to be organized this way because people find things this way can be a very difficult process.

ROBERSON: But they're very responsive to all that. There's no combativeness to it. They're very supportive. One of the things that Allison and I discussed very early on is that we would be given them this catalog of fairly great material. That helps them become not just an adjunct to the Direct Market. It helps them become real digital distribution on their own in I think a competitive way.

SPURGEON: You said that you guys handle the PR.

ROBERSON: She handles the PR.

SPURGEON: What is different about promoting digital comics? What works? It's a very different thing than print comics, which, as you pointed out, have a completely different release structure around which publicity is generally built. I don't know what works.

BAKER: Doing something? [laughter]

SPURGEON: Well, that is a comics thing, isn't it? Just trying something can sometimes be a daunting, near-impossible task.

BAKER: It is just sending out for review every single issue that comes out every single week for review.

ROBERSON: Allison has been tireless in establishing a relationship with the reviewers and the press. It's her. It doesn't have to be some sort of corporate bullshit. It's her talking. That comes across. So when she had spinal surgery [Baker laughs] she could include a note at the bottom: "Please excuse any typos; I'm on drugs." [laughter] So much of the press and PR that comes out of the big companies is such odious shit.

BAKER: Most people that work in PR offices like that are so overwhelmed with everything they have coming out. These are my babies.

SPURGEON: There's a lack of structure in that world, too, that I think is increasingly frustrating for PR people trained in the classic elements of that job.

Chris, you're a baby when it comes to writing comics.

ROBERSON: My first comic was cover-dated four years ago this month.

SPURGEON: I remember thinking you were five years in at best, if that. So is knowing all of this about process, how the sausages are made, is any of that helpful to the writing. Or is that completely separate. Because of lot of creators choose not to engage with some of the business aspects of the medium in which they work in order to protect the writing part of what they do.

ROBERSON: I wrote novels before. We ran a small-press publishing company before my first novel came out. I've always been obsessed with the inner workings. I had an agent for a while and hated it because I wanted to be in control, at least be involved.

BAKER: We handled all those deals anyway, and handed them over and he screwed them up anyway. [laughter] That didn't work.

ROBERSON: One of my dissatisfactions in working with the larger corporations -- really just DC; I was only dissatisfied working at DC -- is that so much was kept at arm's length and there so much unnecessary segmenting of information. We're all the same team. I like on the collaboration side for everyone to be involved and I like for everyone to know the business side if possible.

SPURGEON: Your public decision to not work with DC and to move forward with your work in a certain way, there's a political aspect to that. It's been a while. There used to be a very specific way of thinking about creators' rights in the '80s and '90s that found expression in the 2000s as more a general near white-hot contempt from companies and their functionaries towards creators. A culture of contempt. It made me wonder if there's something about the way corporations are set up that engenders a kind of segmented, we-know-better, editorially directed nasty place to work. This leads to breakdowns along the way. What do you think of the implicit criticism element of your vocational choices in recent years?

ROBERSON: I've seen more and more people... my objection was never my treatment. I had a fine relationship with my direct editorial people. It was larger cultural concerns. It's a culture that's arisen -- at least at DC -- that treats writers and artists and talents, not creators. They want to run like a TV show does, where you have a staff of people, and there's some sort of show-runner, and everyone's contributing, and the end result is this sort of thing. Not a lot of creative fingerprints on it. Writers and artists are interchangeable. I think that shows in the quality a lot. I think there is a contempt for the creators in a lot of ways.

BAKER: There's o respect for them, I think that that's fundamentally the problem.

ROBERSON: If you go to the web site it says that Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 in 2011. You have to fucking dig to find Siegel and Shuster on that goddamn thing.

BAKER: A little respect goes a long way.

SPURGEON: It wasn't unique to you, is what you're saying. Did you get people that expressed solidarity whether or not they could join you in changing the direction of their careers?

ROBERSON: Virtually everyone I talked to at least agreed with me on the treatment of creators. A lot of them did not agree with me about the Watchmen thing specifically. I talked to a lot of people.

BAKER: It's just gotten worse. [laughs] I mean, there are a lot of people leaving.

SPURGEON: So where do you think that ends up? What's the end game there? Do you hold out any hope that things like what you're doing right now serve as a corrective for those places?

ROBERSON: I think so. In the early '80s, the rise of things like Pacific and First forced the larger corporation to behave better. For a large part, that as Jenette Kahn coming in from the outside and saying, "Why are you doing this? Why are you behaving this way?" I don't think that anybody that's done corporate comics in the last two decades has any illusions that they own anything they do or any of that. It's a job. But all of the safeguards that were put in... creator equity and money... has been eroded over the last ten years. All of the hard work that Paul Levitz and Jenette Kahn put in.

SPURGEON: You know, one of the first times I noticed you two was watching how you set up at this show -- you have kind of a salon set-up away from the action, on this balcony at this hotel bar. It's almost like you're a remote location and the show comes to you. Even though the floor has changed a lot and the audience has changed a lot, the back-room aspect of it seems still pretty vital. It seems like if you're a person that comes here to do meetings, you're probably doing at least as many meetings as you did back in 1994.

ROBERSON: Yeah, yeah.

SPURGEON: So what is a show like this for you at this point? Is it useful in terms of doing interviews like this one, taking meetings, touching based with the Monkeybrain creators?

ROBERSON: Originally, there was just a socializing aspect of it that appealed to us. Until we moved to the capital of American Comics in Portland [laughter] we didn't have a very big social circle in Austin. That leads to business. I did an interview about the new titles at Monkeybrain with CBR the other day, and they asked us how all of these books came to us. I realized as I answered that I met this person at San Diego and I liked their book. And that was basically the answer for every one. We don't make much money for our piece. We take a very small percentage. We want to work with people we like. If the biggest superstar in the world wanted to do a book with us and they were an asshole, we wouldn't do it. Even if it meant more money.

SPURGEON: Because life's too short?

ROBERSON: Yeah. I just don't want to be associated with assholes. I've done it before.

SPURGEON: This interview's over. [laughter] So how big is too big, then? What does this look like two years from now.

ROBERSON: [groans] [laughter]

SPURGEON: So you're putting together this list of titles, and they have a certain impression in the marketplace. Since they're your friends, and you like what they do, you'll likely work with many of them on a continuing basis. You're building a line. Can that change now? Or is there creator development. How many non-asshole big creators could you handle if there was interest? You said you're not planning, but do you think about those basic development terms? Do you think about an outcome? Could you do four times the number of comics you're doing now?


BAKER: I don't think that all of the series we have going will continue going. There's a structure where they're intended to be about six issues.

ROBERSON: The way we're structure now we have two things a week coming out.

BAKER: I'm really trying not to go to three, because we usually get both of them on the front page of comiXology, and that's important for new people coming into it.

ROBERSON: There are limitations as to how much time we can put into it. We're not going to grow exponentially in terms of the number of things we can do. We'll reach the point when we're full-up. And then somebody will send something awesome and we'll add it to the schedule anyway. [laughter]

BAKER: He's always like, "This is really good." And I'm like [moans]...

ROBERSON: It's the worst.

SPURGEON: I would have to imagine if the issues sell more, people will want to publish more frequently, too.

BAKER: The digital market is growing; we don't know where it will end up, but it's growing exponentially now.

ROBERSON: If it got to the point where it was a day job for you [indicating Baker]... right now it's nights and weekends.

SPURGEON: One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is that I suspect that what you guys do is generally a mystery to most comics readers, particularly of the kind that might use CR. I like the fact that there isn't a rigid plan you're enacting, that you're focusing on doing the next thing.


BAKER: Rigid is for suckers. This market is changing so rapidly that anybody that things that the things are working right now are the way that things are going to be working five years from now is completely fooling themselves.

SPURGEON: It sounds like you have an orientation and principles more than you have a business plan.

ROBERSON: What's nice is that we only work with people we like.

SPURGEON: People you like.... and Jen Vaughn.

ROBERSON: [laughs] We love Jen. Jen is one of our favorite people.

BAKER: I talk to Jen all of the time.

ROBERSON: They text inappropriate things to each other all of the time.

BAKER: It's awesome. [laughter]

ROBERSON: It's been more than the strength in numbers thing we originally envisioned. It's... a team. People consider themselves on the Monkeybrain team.

BAKER: It's really cool to see the creators support each other's books on-line. This wouldn't be able to work without social media.

SPURGEON: Let me ask you, then, about social media. How right-brained were you in terms of knowing that you had to fold social media elements into what you were going to attempt. How did that approach develop over the past year?

BAKER: So comiXology came to the forefront in terms of figuring out who was going to be the main digital distributor in comics. They kind of won that race. We watched that happening. We saw that the digital market was trying to grow. With the advent of social media coming together at the same time, it was possible to do this. Before it probably would have died on the vine.

SPURGEON: Since I'm old, explain to me in basic terms what you mean there, what social media means for a site like yours in immediate, practical terms. Is it just that you're able to better communicate with all of the people that you need to communicate to?

ROBERSON: It's all of it. The mistake that a lot of traditional marketing people make is viewing twitter, say, as merely promotional. But instead it's a conversation where everyone speaks with the same volume regardless of their size. It's down to the people listening whether to pay attention or not. I mean, I guess you can pay to promote tweets, but I always just tag that as spam.

SPURGEON: That seems very effective if you want people to hate your stuff.

ROBERSON: I hate that stuff. We're on twitter constantly. We can promote the stuff but also interact with the readers; creators can interact with the readers...

BAKER: It humanizes everything. We're creating a relationship with the readership. We're all people, and a lot of time people forget that corporations, that's all made up of a bunch of people and personalities. On the most basic level we're all just people. When you humanize something, I think it becomes more powerful.

ROBERSON: It amuses us when people -- readers -- on twitter refer to Monkeybrain as if it had any existence outside of the two of us. "Monkeybrain is doing this." [Spurgeon laughs] Someone asked us when we got the Eisner nominations if there were high-fives in the Monkeybrain offices. I said, "If you mean the two of us in our living room, then yes." [laughter]

SPURGEON: That would be "high-five." Singular. You know, I guess that's flattering, but also weird, that once you put a name on something it suddenly has an office and a support staff and like a bowling team.

ROBERSON: That's how a lot of people think of everything. Whether we're talking about Time Warner, or AT&T or the Hilton.

SPURGEON: Are you fan of rational discourse in comics, the kind of demystifying or even debunking of the assumed process? There's a controlling aspect to letting certain assumptions reign free, to not having information out there.

ROBERSON: Oh, yeah. I think I was ruined by Fantagraphics as a child by Amazing Heroes and then later the Journal. I was obsessed by that stuff. I wanted to know the minutiae and the history and everything that was going on. I said at one point to [the notion of] "before the Internet we didn't know anything," that no, I knew everything. I knew when things were going to come out. I knew who was doing what. It's because I studied those things like the Torah. Can I call Kurt Busiek one of my idols?



ROBERSON: Because that guy has such encyclopedic knowledge but also a keen awareness. He's tireless on the Internet; he'll get into stupid flamewars and be the voice of reason endless. His thoughts on copyright extension and public domain are so lucid. Nothing infuriates me more than low-information voters arguing shit on-line. [Spurgeon laughs]

SPURGEON: Do you have competitors?

BAKER: I don't think of any other publisher as a competitor. We're all in this together. The more we help each other, the better off we all are.

ROBERSON: We all do such different things. Somebody was asking me about Mark Waid's Thrillbent the other day. We realized very early on that he was doing something that looks similar on the outside but is really very different. What Mark is doing is experimenting with the form. We're experimenting with delivery and distribution. There's a lot of that kind of thing. I don't care. I just read great comics. If somebody takes a book elsewhere... we can mention one, the Keatinge thing. That was already announced.

One of the titles that was announced last year at our panel in San Diego was Joe Keatinge and Ken Gehring on a book called Intergalactic. For a variety of reasons, that ended up at Image. Keatinge is doing another book for us that will be fantastic. It was an immediacy of money thing. The artist needed more money than long-tail digital would allow. So we happily returned the rights to them and they're doing something else instead. I don't see that as a problem. I see that as something that happened.

SPURGEON: When Image started and found some success there were suddenly some Image-looking entities out there. So if Chimpbrain pops up three years from now...

BAKER: I would think, "Isn't that adorable." [laughter]

SPURGEON: And they're on the balcony over there -- [Roberson laughs]

BAKER: We need someone to do more books so we can have great comics.

SPURGEON: You're not worried about the migration aspects that come when models settle in.

ROBERSON: It's not so much a business for us as a public service. Most of the money goes to the creators and they retail all the rights. It's a thing we realized we could do and have fun doing. But yeah, I don't care about competition at all. I just want to read great comics.

BAKER: We knew that comiXology's Submit existed for a while, and it's launched. It needs to exist.

ROBERSON: We can direct comics that aren't suitable for ourselves in that direction.

SPURGEON: Do people come to you and ask for advice?

BAKER: Yeah. We learned a lot about how to sell books that people don't know anything about. I try to share that with the Submit program because I think a lot of those books are very similar.

ROBERSON: The con bar conversation for years was that the Direct Market has developed so that it would be impossible for Mike Mignola to launch Hellboy now. Or Kurt Buisek to launch Astro City. Companies won't take the risk. Sales attrition month to month makes it almost impossible to launch a title. But digital sales are cumulative; things can find an audience over time. Bandette wouldn't have existed if we didn't ask for it.

BAKER: They've been wanting to do this book for years.

ROBERSON: They had an idea to do something like it, but they went off and did it because we asked for it. And yay!

SPURGEON: What do you like about Paul, writer to writer. I think Colleen's virtues are better known and more immediately apparent. When Paul ends up on your virtual bookshelf, what about it appeals?

ROBERSON: Paul and I have similar influences and similar tastes. He used to do the Marvel kids stuff. I like that he does a bunch of different things. He can do very charming kids adventure stuff but then he can write creepy-as-shit stuff like Colder a book at Dark Horse. He sent me his prose novel a few years ago. He sent me his manuscript and I sold it for him.

BAKER: Well, I sold it.

ROBERSON: Okay, okay. Allison sold it. [laughter] I just like this stuff.

SPURGEON: So it''s not a thematic agreement. When you mention that he works in a different genre, I thought of a similarity in your work where you're willing to work within the confines of a genre, happy to find a place for yourself. Is that how you approach work as a creator and as a reader?

ROBERSON: It's something I like in all media. There's a musican named Yoko Kanno who has done a bunch of work for animation. My favorite album of hers is Commercial Jingles, songs that she's written for various advertisements. It's very charming. Every one is different. She inhabits a different style. I don't like to read just one thing. I'd be miserable if I wrote just one thing. I know lots of writers that are happy occupy a patch of ground but that would just bore me senseless.

SPURGEON: Do you worry about building a line in terms of moving people from one title to another?

BAKER: I like reading Bandette and I like reading High Crimes and they are two completely different books. I don't think anyone's taste is in one spot. I don't think we can recommend something to someone that way.

ROBERSON: The advantage is that our price point is such you can easily sample anything, and at worst you've spent less than you would have on a candy bar.

BAKER: The price point was a very conscious decision. I feel like nobody's going to be upset if they spent a dollar and it wasn't for them. They'll just move on.

ROBERSON: Unless they're a horrible person.

BAKER: That's why you get a blowback with the bigger companies and higher prices. These characters people have a relationship with.

SPURGEON: Did you get any blowback for under-pricing the market, driving down the overall price point.

ROBERSON: A little. But we're not selling you a 22-page comic for 99 cents. We're selling you a charming 10- or 11-page thing. So the price drives the form in a lot of ways, rather than here's the form and let's figure out what to charge for it.

SPURGEON: A 100-page book at 99 cents doesn't make sense for anybody.

BAKER: You can't do a 22 page book for 99 cents.

SPURGEON: Is it just more for you right now?

BAKER: We'll probably try some other things.

ROBERSON: In the beginning it was flattering creators didn't laugh at us. We had no right for anyone to believe that we could do this. Now that we've done it, a lot of people that we talked to are more interested.

SPURGEON: You got all the dumb creators. Now you'll get the smart ones.

ROBERSON: It's more like we're getting the risk-averse.


* Monkeybrain Comics


* photo of Roberson and Baker from the interview session, Hilton Bayfront, 2013.
* three covers of titles, hopefully contextually clear and relevant
* one of the many iterations of the Monkeybrain logo. [below]



posted 1:00 am PST | Permalink

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