Back in Familiar Territory with His Second Kickstarter Campaign – An Interview with BLAKE McCARTHY
Blake McCarthy, writer of the comic Territory, hunkers down in the Yeti Cave to discuss the current Kickstarter campaign for issue #2, comics as a means to explore faith and religion, how he balances his time between family, working, and writing, and why kaiju are so dang cool.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Blake, thank you so much for joining me here in the Yeti Cave to discuss Territory #1-2, currently on Kickstarter. How have you been doing?
BLAKE MCCARTHY: Good. Thank you, Jimmy! It’s been a great start to the campaign and I had a fun Halloween with the family.
CBY: What is your origin story as a creator? Were comics always a part of your life and when did you know you wanted to create your own stories?
BM: I grew up reading mostly Marvel comics with my dad and brother. Comics were a big part of my childhood, as I read them through most of my teenage years. Spider-Man was always my favorite. In my early 20s, I fell out of reading them, but when my first son was around 3, he started to get into superheroes, which got me back into comics.
I got into a wider range of comics and, between realizing how many more options there were and wanting to be an inspiration for my son, I decided I wanted to try my hand [at creating them]. I had attempted to learn screenwriting as a hobby in college, but couldn’t really get into it. Writing comics felt much more natural to me.
CBY: Territory is a post-apocalyptic kaiju story set in the Pacific Northwest. What was your inspiration for this story? What is it about giant monsters in the distant future that allows you to tell a story about the “boundaries of faith, belief, and family”?
BM: Correct, the basic premise is it’s in a far distant future where a nuclear event has pretty much wiped out civilization, and people now live in tribes and worship the giant “Behemoths” as gods. I knew I wanted to do a kaiju story as Godzilla has always been one of my favorite characters/franchises, and I love kaiju as a concept. I have always loved the “God” part of Godzilla where he is portrayed as a near-mythical being, a force of nature beyond human control. I believe if something like that were to ever exist on Earth it would be worshipped, religions and cults would form around it, and people would devote their lives to such a creature. Having a literal representation of a god in the book opened a lot of doors to examine how and why we form religions and how those religions are taught. The main character in the book, Alkia, is a teen on the brink of adulthood, so she’s old enough to have her own opinions and beliefs but is still heavily influenced by those around her, especially her family. The story follows her as her beliefs grow, are challenged and changed by the people and worlds around her.
CBY: Although Territory is set in the distant future, did you do a lot of research into any early Indigenous cultures/religious beliefs to inform the customs, beliefs, even hunting techniques of Alkia and her tribe? Or was it something else that informed your choices for Alkia and her people?
BM: I did, I tried to base the various tribes in the book somewhat around tribes that inhabited the regions. The Chinook were the primary influence for the Greathorn tribe Alkia is a part of. Their belief in the Great Spirit was heavily based in the natural world and [in] animals as important figures/protectors. I did however also try to make their religion feel similar to some more modern religions, especially the way they speak about it, to drive home some of the religious philosophical messages. I also tried to incorporate some of their clothing/lifestyle, but blend it with a post-apocalyptic aesthetic.
CBY: Have any of your own personal, religious/spiritual beliefs or issues with faith made their way into Territory?
BM: Yes, this was the primary inspiration for me to tell this story other than kaiju being awesome. I am an atheist, and though I have no issue with people choosing to believe in whatever religion they choose, I feel like organized religion has some dangerous elements. The intellectual suppression of people who are raised and taught one belief their whole lives often seems to come with an unwillingness to accept outside viewpoints or challenge anything because “it’s god’s will '' or a similar all-encompassing answer. I also believe religious leaders can often use their power and influence immorally, to further their own personal agendas at the expense of those they lead. Individuals who believe in religions often do and act on them in the right way, trying to live up to messages of kindness, generosity, etc. But religious leaders seem to often use it as more a political tool to suppress those that oppose them and keep people complacent. All of this is explored as the story unfolds, as there are devout followers, skeptics, cynics, leaders and games being played behind the scenes.
CBY: When you started getting art back, for either issue #1 or #2, were there any surprises or pages that really blew you away?
BM: Yes, a lot of them! Chris Sassman is an incredible artist, especially considering he is only a couple years into his career, which is crazy to me. Specifically, each issue has a 2-page spread, which is supposed to really drive the awe-inspiring nature of the Behemoths home, and Chris absolutely nailed them. Both of them really give you a sense of how big and powerful the creatures in the book are and help you understand why people would worship them as gods.
There were some great human moments he captured as well; page 18 in issue 1 has Alkia dancing, and Chris really captured the feeling of joy she was experiencing and uses it as a centerpiece for an amazing celebration page. In issue 2, his technical skills grew even more as the characters' personalities really shine through in the art. Page 3 has an amazing panel of a sick character with hollowed eyes that truly looks to be in the fight of his life against an illness and both Alkia and Neebo, the other protagonist, have their expressions captured perfectly on page 5.
CBY: Both issues are very well-paced. Is that something you were conscious of in the scripting of it, or were there conversations with Chris Sassman about what the two of you wanted to achieve regarding the pacing of the story?
BM: I mapped out the script with a brief description of each page before writing it, so I tried to be conscious of it then. Chris has a great intuition for visual storytelling, so I think he helps smooth a lot of things out by making the panel-to-panel and page-to-page transitions interesting, which keeps the story flowing. He’s a great collaborator to work with, though. I had the script finished when I gave it to him. He asked a lot of questions to truly try to understand the characters and their motivations in the story, rather than just draw what I described. I also have to give a shout-out to Nicole D’Andria who was the editor on issue #2. I wish I had brought her in for issue #1, because she did such an amazing job and I feel like she really helped to clean up the script and remove bloat so the story could flow more smoothly.
CBY: On the Kickstarter page, there is a list of other media that have inspired Territory, including comics Sweet Tooth and East of West (2 of my favorites). What is it about those stories that you hoped to capture with Territory?
BM: They are two of mine as well! I think the biggest thing with each of them is just how deep and real the worlds feel. Each of them have a tremendous amount of work put into the small details which makes them feel like living, breathing places. Sweet Tooth does a great job of giving a feeling of the natural world reclaiming itself after humanity brings its own downfall, which was a theme I wanted to incorporate heavily into TERRITORY. East of West’s depiction of religious leaders as political figures and the god-like figures walking the earth, often indifferent to the whims of humanity, gave a very particular vibe that I tried to put into some of the characters in TERRITORY.
CBY: Those are two great elements of those stories to try to capture for Territory. Having read both issues, I can see those particular influences. This is your second Kickstarter campaign after Territory #1 was successfully funded in May of this year. What was the experience like running your first Kickstarter? What lessons did you learn that you’ve applied to running the current campaign?
BM: The first campaign was a great experience. As a first-time creator, and someone with no connection to the industry and [who] had never done a creative project like this before, I was very nervous and had no idea what to expect or how much of a reception it would get. The indie comics community has been incredible. There are so many supportive people out there who are passionate about helping creators reach their dreams, and so many creators willing to offer advice and assistance to set you on the right path. I still have a ton to learn, both as a creator and about Kickstarter itself, but I feel like I have a good network of people helping me. The biggest lessons I’ve learned is to use this network, support and champion others as they support and champion you. CBY is an amazing ally of indie creators, along with lots of other reviewers, podcasters, YouTubers, etc. and it is important to reach out and try to connect with people.
CBY: Thank for saying that. It means a lot to us at CBY.
The funding goal for the first issue of Territory was $1500, which you surpassed. There were a total of 137 backers. The goal for the current campaign is $4,000. Considering Kickstarter is a fund-or-don’t scenario, what factors went into your decision setting that goal?
BM: For the first campaign, I intentionally set a low goal because I had no idea what a realistic number was or what my audience would be. I feel very fortunate for how successful the campaign was and the second campaign is more reflective of the actual costs to produce the book. I lost money on the first campaign, which is honestly fine with me, this is a passion project and I am willing to spend money to bring it to life, but the second campaign is more accurate to what I will realistically need to fund to continue making the book. I talked and worked with some Kickstarter veterans of very successful campaigns to try and improve the second campaign as much as possible, while setting a realistic but more sustainable goal.
CBY: You live in Colorado with your wife and 2 kids, and you’re a firefighter. How do you manage your time with all of those responsibilities, especially 2 kids, to still find time to be creative?
BM: Yes, I am a Colorado native and feel incredibly lucky to have such an amazing family. Being a firefighter is actually a pretty good job to have to pursue creative interests, I work 48 hours at a time but then have 96 hours off between shifts so that gives me days when I can focus a lot of my energy towards being creative. My sons are 7 and 3 so my house is chaos, but they are my inspiration to keep pushing. I want to show them if I can create something I’m passionate about, they can follow their passions as well.
It definitely makes for some long days. I do a lot of work when they have gone to bed or if they are busy during the day, but it’s worth it because I feel like I’m constantly thinking and experiencing things. Children have an amazing view of the world, they are curious and try to find joy in almost everything which is a refreshing take.
CBY: I couldn't agree more about kids. My two daughters are 9 and 4 and I feel much the same way as you do.
Can you take me through your writing process when you have an idea for a story? Are you someone that had to sit with an idea for a while or do you start making notes right away?
BM: I definitely take a while before I can put a story together in a meaningful way. TERRITORY was in my head for at least 2 years before I contacted Chris about doing issue 1. When I get an idea, I write down the basic idea, whether it's the story or the world. Once I go to write it, I have to plan everything out. I break it down issue by issue, then page by page. I create an outline of the book with a description of each page, as well as notes on each character, the world, etc.
Once I have the outline, I can finally start writing it. The first draft is always very rough, as it’s me taking vague ideas and trying to give them depth. Then I go back in later versions to clean it up and make sure characters are consistent in their voice and actions. I do change things from the outline as the story goes on, but I try to stick to the major plot points to keep the pacing from falling off. I have an idea for my next project past TERRITORY and have written some basic things down, but probably won’t get a script done until next year at the earliest as it’s still building in my head.
CBY: The creative team for Territory is, quite literally, all over the place. Chris Sassman (pencils/inks) is in South Africa, Ichsan Ansori (colors) is in Indonesia, and Marco Della Verde (letters) is in Italy. That leaves you and editor Nicole D’Andria in the U.S. How did this creative team come together, and what do you think makes your collaboration successful?
BM: Yes, that wasn’t intentional, but I think it’s beneficial. When I finally decided to take the next step and look for an artist, I looked a lot of places including Instagram, Twitter, Artstation, DeviantArt and Reddit. I found Chris on the comic collaborations subreddit and was blown away by his work. I asked a couple months out, and he agreed to come on board, and fortunately, he knew Ichsan from earlier projects and recommended him. Chris is an awesome collaborator; he asks questions and really wants to understand why he’s drawing things rather than just trying to reproduce from a script. He makes suggestions and is always coming up with ideas to make a page or panel more interesting. Ichsan and him work together extremely well and Ichsan does a great job of bringing mood and feeling to the work. Marco is also from the subreddit and he has been an amazing resource, not just as a letterer, which he’s awesome at and has a great design sense, but as a professional who has helped us less experienced creators catch mistakes early and make sure what we’re doing will turn out like we intended. Nicole has been awesome. I am definitely planning on having her back for the rest of the issues as she helped the script become much tighter and understands how to tell a story effectively. Everyone is very open to feedback and there are no egos, which has made it a lot of fun and I think that shows in the final pages.
CBY: Who are the comic creators working today that have inspired and influenced you?
BM: I try to read a lot of different books so there isn’t really one or two “main influences.” However, there are some people who I definitely read whatever they put out. For big names: Stephanie Phillips, Marjorie Liu, Andrew MacLean, and Kieron Gillen all have series going that I love. I try to check out lots of other Kickstarters as well and there are some amazing creators there too, including Ryan Bis and John J. Perez.
CBY: Do you have a long-term comics goal?
BM: Nothing specific. This has been an amazingly rewarding experience and I would like to continue to be able to tell the stories I want to tell and work with cool creative people in an affordable manner.
I have ideas for another series after TERRITORY and a graphic novel that I would like to make but don’t intend to ever make a career out of it. Kickstarter and the indie community has been amazing so I would like to continue to support and grow the indie community as much as possible.
CBY: If you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 books do you want to make absolutely sure are included?
BM: Oh man, that’s a tough one. Not much of a collector so I would go with these issues from some of my favorite runs/series: (1) Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2 #30; This is the start of the J. Michael Straczynski run which was the run that got me hooked on comics. (2) Fables #1; This is probably my favorite ever completed series, such a fun idea with some of the best characters ever written. (3) Godzilla, King of the Monsters #1; Mostly just for fun but the Marvel Godzilla was cool and it’s his first appearance in American comics (I think).
CBY: Are you currently working on any other projects CBY readers should check out?
BM: Nope, though I am planning on multiple TERRITORY issues next year!
CBY: Do you have a website and/or are you active on Twitter? Anywhere else you can be found online?
BM: I am active on Twitter and Instagram, both of them @bmccomics, which are the best places to find me.
CBY: Thank you so much, Blake!
BM: Thank you for taking the time! I appreciate everything you and the rest of the CBY team do for indie creators and fans!