Welcome to Self-Published Spotlight, a regular interview column where I will be highlighting self-published comics and the creators and small print publishers who make them.
When I started seeing Ben Perkins’ art on social media, I was floored. This guy can draw! So when Ben launched the Kickstarter campaign for his book, HEAVY, I was immediately on board. The book has reached its goal, and with the end of the campaign looming, the prospect of holding HEAVY in my hands has me stoked beyond belief. I reached out to Ben and he was gracious enough to take some time to chat about his art, process and of course HEAVY. Make sure to support and grab the book before the campaign ends!
Monkeys Fighting Robots: First off, thanks for taking the time to talk Ben, I know how busy you are with various projects!
Ben Perkins:Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. Very exciting times and I’m never too busy to talk about comics!!
MFR: I always start every Spotlight by asking about comic book origins. So what’s your comic book origin? When did you get the four-color bug?
BP:My comic book origins are murky. I know I loved cartoons from an early age and was really into the Batman ’66 show which would run on Nickelodeon in the afternoons and weekends, and I know comics swirled around somewhere, but it was really in fourth grade when my buddy Alan gave me a Flash book, I can’t remember the issue, but I do remember it ended with this huge villain, with a morning star beats the bloody paste out of the Crimson Speedster and the last panel had Flash with blood all over his face in the foreground, like RIGHT THERE!!, with this behemoth of a man headed towards the city. I was riveted. After that it was finding them at the drug store and such. It wasn’t until I got in high school, I learned there was a comic shop in my small town and then I was nearly spending every day there.
MFR: Do you have a comics Mount Rushmore? Who are your biggest influences?
BP: Mt. Rushmore of comics, huh? I can never remember how many white dudes are carved upon that stolen rock. Four? Five? Regardless, I think mine would be Miller, Eisner, Mignola, Smith, and Klaus. (I know there are four, I just cheated.)
MFR: What’s your favorite thing about creating comics? Or favorite thing about comics in general?
BP:My favorite thing about making comics is the puzzle making. For me, it’s the layout. I love laying out a book, and when I learned that a good trick is to lay out the entire book at once, it unlocked so many things for me, in terms of pacing, viewing angles, etc. I like the fact that, if I can use filmmaking as an analogy, you get to be everyone. The director, the costume designer, the special effects house, the editor, the choreographer, make-up artist, lighting, set designer, etc. It’s daunting when you really think about tearing down all those decisions into a whole department of people, you understand just how much thinking goes into cartooning. For me, at least.
MFR: Alright so let’s get into HEAVY. Can you give us an elevator pitch? What’s the history behind the story and idea? Is it something you had been cooking for a while?
BP:The pitch for HEAVY is very simple: In a ruined world, Heavy must navigate the wastelands to restore balance to a world he has inadvertently destroyed. The history behind the character is long. Very long. I’ve been developing this story for fifteen to twenty years. Honestly, I’ve lost count. It started as a joke between me and some roommates I was living with when I was in my early twenties and had just moved to Portland. Years later we would reunite and reminisce and he mentioned this “heavy horse” threat we used to use and it just sparked my imagination and I saw this horse-headed badass coming out of the shadows. Really powerful. It didn’t start how it ended up. It started as a joke. A farmhouse horse who took mushrooms all the time. It was limited. So I just kept rotating worlds around Heavy that I thought would work. None really did until I realized I could use the horse motif easier if I made the story a western. That’s when the ideas I’d been cultivating really took off.
MFR: This is also your first Kickstarter project. What made you take the leap and what was the process like?
BP: Kickstarter wasn’t an easy decision for me. Primarily because of how I was aware that not all of them did well, and the people I saw running the successful ones seem a heck of a lot smarter than me. I was at the time in a fortunate position of having a small publishing company license the pages for their app as I was creating the pages for the first issue, effectively paying me to work on the book. It was a real dream come true and a real nice bump in finances, but they had to close because the publisher felt the app wouldn’t be viable for what they were spending. Fortunately, I had the first issue all done. So I decided it was time to maybe crowdfund and see if I should make more of this book.
MFR: Kickstarter has become one of the best ways to publish comics. Why do you think the method has taken off so much?
BP:Kickstarter has taken off for most because you can control every aspect. This is my first one, so I have no real experience to speak of, but I took about three weeks to read, and speak to other folks who have run a campaign so I could understand the pitfalls and responsibilities. I wanted to understand the amount of work it would be, and I’m glad I did. I still have the other side, with the fulfillment section, that will be when the real work comes in, but I’m prepared and excited.
MFR: Do you think you will use Kickstarter again on a future project?
BP: I will definitely use Kickstarter in the future and be able to really take advantage and try something new. I don’t know what that would be, yet, hopefully, more Heavy, but I have other ideas that are coming into fruition and other gimmicks I want to try out that I think people will really enjoy.
MFR: Your art is fantastic. There is a lot of weight and texture to it. How do you create the images? Like what tools do you use? More specifically, what is your creative process like?
BP:Thanks for the compliments about the art. I appreciate that. I just use regular pencils. I have some Japanese brush pens I like and I love my Gpen, but I’ve been using digital a bit more, obviously for coloring, but I’ve found some brushes that simulate what I need to do. I can never give up the analog though, so most of the Heavy pages are traditional pen and paper.
MFR: Did you approach HEAVY differently than past projects?
BP:Yeah, with HEAVY, it was this thing where I had this character that I didn’t know what to do with. It started as a Miller/Sin City kind of homage/spoof, and I didn’t really like that, because I couldn’t write detective fiction at the time, and so the world around him and his role in it kept getting redefined. A boxer, a mental patient, a cab driver, all these things and different worlds and tones for each. It was getting overwhelming. So I hit on the idea of trying to do every version. Then when I made Heavy immortal, that was the key. From there everything seemed to fit. It was a trope, in a way, but it was a way to give his moods context by time period. It was a weird notion I clung to. Then just figuring out what that world would be like with him running around on this planet. And what would happen if his meddling may have accidentally destroyed Earth? What would happen then? How do you fix that? How do you take responsibility for that? That’s the story I found.
MFR: Are there any other projects you want to mention or talk about?
BP:I’m doing a number of fan projects. Both Batman fan comic projects, 1963 Annual and Darker Image. I have a secret anthology I’m a part of that I’m excited about. I’m in the new WEAPON ECHH, which I’m super happy with. What else? Oh! I have an original graphic novel dropping on Friday so I’m excited to share that at that time. I’m working with Eli and Cosmic Lion for a really cool gimmick I think I’ll keep to myself right now, but I can almost promise you’ve never seen a comic like it. That I’m really excited for!
MFR: Can we expect more HEAVY stories in the future?
BP:With HEAVY, I don’t know what to do with him now. I have the first half of the next issue done but I’m at a stage with it right now that I’m thinking of restructuring. Initially, it was very overblown. It took me about a month to figure out how to make it twelve issues. I really like the idea of that, but as a Kickstarter, I’m not sure I can ask people to hold out and keep coming back, and I don’t know how long twelve issues at average 40 pages a piece it’ll take me. I’m debating seeing how much fat I can trim off and still be able to tell the story and see if I can shrink it to half the size and make it a one-and-done type of adventure. Jim Rugg’s AFRODISIAC kind of inspired me on how to handle a character in multiple ways. I don’t think I can use that exact model, but that off-balance nature of the narrative he was pulling off, while at the same time keeping everything in this understandable continuity, is something I took away from that project. Plus it looks really pretty.
MFR: Where and how can readers get your work and output?
BP:Right now, my Kickstarter is where you can sign up for the first issue of Heavy. You should be able to search that and it’ll pop right up. I have a book I did with a very good friend of mine over at galaxygator.net which is Galaxy Gator. I think there are five or six issues. There’s a trade. It’s actually pretty beautiful and a great all-ages book. Very proud to be a part of that one. Otherwise, I’m plugging things on Facebook, I’m @brattyben on Instagram and if you’re a dinosaur like me, DeviantArt as well.
MFR: Any final thoughts or comments you wanna share with us?
BP:Anyone out there that wants to make a comic, just do it. Keep on keeping on!
Assistant Comic Book Editor. Manny has been obsessed with comics since childhood. He reads some kind of comic every single day. He especially loves self-published books and dollar bin finds. 'Nuff said!