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Calgarian Splendour - Local comic book artists wade into the difficult world of self-publishing - FFWD, November 2003

Tom Babin


Todd McFarlane may have turned his hyper-exaggerated Spawn comic book series into a multimedia elephant over the past decade, but a more accurate portrayal of the life of a comic book artist would be that of Harvey Pekar.

The curmudgeonly purveyor of the long-running autobiographical series American Splendour garnered critical kudos for years, but he was always forced to supplement his meagre income with a day job. He is still worried about making ends meet, he recently told Fast Forward's Jason Lewis, even though his series has been turned into one of the most lauded films of the year.

So it's a bit of a surprise that anyone would try their hand at creating comic books for a living and it's almost baffling that they would self-publish as well.

Laurie Breitkreuz and Kandrix Foong are two such gutsy types. For a couple of years now, while Foong puts in 50 hours a week at his day job and Breitkreuz teaches part-time animation courses, the two have been self-publishing a four-part comic book series called A Monk's Tale. And it hasn't even destroyed their relationship.

"We're pretty patient with each other," Foong says, laughing. "Whatever decisions we make, it's all in the best interests of the book."

The couple completed the logistical groundwork for the publishing of the martial-arts series themselves, spent more than a year promoting it at comic book conventions and have tirelessly hawked it at comic book stores throughout North America - all on their own dime.

"We're not very extravagant with our lifestyle, so that helps. People think it's a lot of money, but it's quite easy to justify," Breitkreuz says. "Kandrix has good business sense and I try not to be the stereotypical artist , you know... who doesn't understand and appreciate the business side of things."

The two hope to ride the series to multimedia stardom, thereby bringing to reality a host of new projects swirling in their heads.

Fellow Calgarian Sam Hester echoes that sentiment, but she jokes that her only real ambition is to quit her day job.

She may be getting closer to that goal. Her quaint autobiographical comics have led to her being asked to contribute to two anthologies - most recently Project: Telstar, a gorgeous anthology published by Adhouse Books.

If Breitkreuz and Foong represent the Type-A side of Calgary's self-publishing community, Hester may be the community's right brain. She says she started publishing her comic diaries on the Internet - not to attract big-buck boosters, but so her friends overseas could keep up on her life. She credits a benevolent friend for keeping her website (www.thedrawingbook.com) running because she lacks the technical knowledge, and says she has no plans to launch into traditional publishing on her own, other than the odd photocopied mini-book she hands out to friends.

"I've seen some people who publish these things, and there's a lot to it," Hester says.

"I'm not really that motivated. I guess I'm hoping the work will speak for itself."

Despite her Luddite tendencies, Hester's online work represents another way of self-publishing. She says her website is a good - and inexpensive - way of making her work accessible to the public, which, ultimately, is the goal of any publishing venture.

Self-publishing of any sort is the best way to forge a career in comics, says Steven Colle, a comics-industry veteran who is also acting as a consulting editor on A Monk's Tale. However, he adds, it still has to be combined with the old-fashioned ideas of meeting people and self-promotion.

"Self-publishing is still the best way to do it because you get the most satisfaction out of it," Colle says. "The one thing about self-publishing is you have to realize there's a lot of sacrifice. If you don't know anything about the publishing industry, then you're really hitting a blind spot."

Self-publishing is such a daunting venture that Breitkreuz and Foong are trying to bring more local independent creators together so they can help each other out. They have dedicated the back pages in their books and parts of their website (www.konsequential.com) to strengthening the local indie comics community by organizing meetings and facilitating communication between artists. Breitkreuz says working together makes the task more manageable, which allows artists to concentrate on their creations.

"There's a lot of people trying to start something and all of them have great stories to tell," Breitkreuz says.

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