Comic Book Yeti's Byron O'Neal interviews fellow Li'l Squatch, Rob McDonald, about his current Kickstarter campaign for PYRE! With less than 24 hours to go, PYRE is a horror-tinged superhero tale that could use some help and it deserves it. Read on to find out why.
BYRON O'NEAL: This is Byron O'Neal hanging out here with creator Rob McDonald, and we're going to chat a little bit about his new Kickstarter comic series Pyre. Before we jump into the Kickstarter project, give me a little background about yourself.
ROB MCDONALD: Yeah, I'm originally from Wales, but I've lived here in the Netherlands now for the last six years. We moved over for my wife's work. It's just kind of bits and pieces of writing here and there, and now I'm writing more for Comic Book Yeti and have a few short stories coming out this year and probably a couple anthologies coming out next year.
B: So what got you into comics in the first place? I was introduced to it as a kid. I started with West Coast Avengers, and I was like eight years old?
R: I had to take a sideways route because I grew up in a really small town in North Wales. The access we had was not particularly great pre-internet. So, my first exposure to the main characters was through films. I grew up loving all the Batman and Superman films. Once I got to an age where I had my own money and access to things was more available, that's when I started reading more. It was definitely the gateway drug. Then when I was around 18, I started expanding more. I started reading more things like Hellboy, all the more normal stuff you start with when you are getting into comics. I fell off with it for a few years and then about four or five years ago I picked up Saga on a whim. That launched me back full throttle into it all.
B: So the independent genre stuff like Saga and Hellboy had more of an influence on you?
R: It's kind of difficult to say because my entryway into a lot of these kinds of characters was through films. My touchstones for a lot of major characters came from there, and it is from there, reverse engineering back to all the stuff that we end up going through when we start falling down the rabbit hole. I wouldn't necessarily say Hellboy is a huge influence because the way I tend to write, I struggle more with that kind of heightened concept. I very much prefer smaller things and that's what I've always tended towards.
B: Is Pyre your first comic project then?
R: I have three short story anthologies coming out probably by the first quarter of next year. Apart from that, Pyre has been the main emphasis for the last four or five months. Depending on what happens with the Kickstarter, I'll probably default back towards short stories because this was quite an ambitious project to start with.
B: Touching on that, what have you learned so far about trying to push it?
R: I think the first thing I had to get over was my ego. Everyone has that voice in the back of their head thinking, "Everyone else has to do all these things and go into the marketing machine but maybe this is so special and amazing that it will just fly without any type of guidance." You get disabused of that notion very quickly. I think if I had started again it would probably not have started up by this point. I needed to lay a lot more groundwork, make a lot more contacts. Everyone I've spoken to in the last three or four weeks has been absolutely amazing and has so much information and tips for how to build a groundswell of support. Because I am a newer voice, even though I've been writing for Comic Book Yeti for the last three or four months, I just kind of didn't have a foundation to start off with. So it's been playing catch up since day one really.
B: There seems to be a big movement in the comics medium in general towards these crowdfunding and creator own projects. Everything seems to have gone truly international. I myself have backed Kickstarter project in Finland and in Ireland in the last month. Being able to find projects and support them all over the world is amazing. You live in the Netherlands now, but grew up in the UK, how does the scene seem to be evolving there in Europe?
R: It's one of those things, everything runs through the internet. There aren't really borders anymore in that way. Even on this project, I'm from UK and live in the Netherlands. Linda is Canadian. Annie is from Ecuador. It's very much an international thing, and it shows just how small the internet made the world. And now, I speak to people from everywhere.
B: How exactly did you get such an internationally diverse creative team together?
R: The initial thing I wanted was to form an all-female team because of the nature of the book and the characters because of some of the events that happened in the book. From there, it was just a case of trying to find the right people. Annie got mentioned to me off of a Facebook post. We started talking, and I really liked her art. It just kind of all came together very organically. Linda I found and got in touch with after seeing the Harvey Dent/Two Face one-page comic that was doing the rounds on Twitter. I got in touch with her following that. Nikki, I think I just saw her work here and there and went onto her website and looked at her portfolio. I got in touch with her and sent her the script to see if she'd be interested. The very first person who I had ever spoken to about it was my editor, Kirsten Murrey. I basically just happened to come across her website when I was looking for editors to speak to. She was incredible help through the entire process and helping to focus myself on the writing, editing the script, and honing the story down. She was fantastic. Basically, it all came together very organically.
B: What kind of genre would you say Pyre fits into?
R: When the very first germ of an idea came through, it was very much intended to be a traditional hero's story. Then from there, it evolved towards my natural inclination which is horror. It kind of exists in this nebulous space between the two now because I very much shy away from the excesses of superhero stuff. I prefer things to be very grounded. Effectively it tended towards the horror stuff because it's a space I was more comfortable with.
B: I noticed looking through the press materials that your main character, Nora Kendrick suffers a psychological break after her nemesis Rictus is murdered. There's this strong trauma focus in the book. Did you start out wanting to write a story that addresses mental health? What was the impetus behind that?
R: No, that's absolutely always been at the forefront. It's at the forefront of most of the things I've done because I have extensive knowledge of mental health issues, through my own personal experience, through the experience of friends and family. It's always colored the way I see the world and speak to people around me. So when I started writing Pyre, it was very much meant to be a study of what it means when you basically lose control of your life.
B: Why Pyre? When I think of a pyre, I'm thinking warrior funerals with these massive bonfires touching the sky, this is much more of an inward kind of story. Can you go into that a little bit?
R: What you learn through the story is that the traumatic event, which is precipitated as things fall apart, is approximately about a year before our story picks up. Rictus tracks down a lot of people that Nora has put away and investigated in different areas. He kidnaps Nora and then makes her watch as he puts them all on a pyre and tells her it's her fault. That was the seed of everything, this idea of a very literal form of gaslighting. It's an idea that gets explored in a lot of books between two characters being like two sides of the same coin which balance each other out. Batman and the Joker is the biggest example of it but what I wanted to focus in on was actually what that means for the characters and then what would happen once that other half was gone.
B: What's the purpose of your other character, Rebecca? She's the one that actually kills Rictus to get revenge for killing her family. She works as a catalyst for Nora. How exactly does that relationship work?
R: Rebecca is very young. She's lost everything and does what Nora can never allow herself to do which is to kill Rictus. That eventually leads Nora to snap because Rebecca turns around and says that you could have done this a long time ago and save a lot of lives. The reason my life was ruined was because you couldn't do that. It was that final thing which then causes Nora to snap and disassociate.
B: Once somebody puts this down, what do you hope you leave with them from the story?
R: What I'd like to leave them with is a sense that you can't define yourself by things that have happened to you. That you're not always set in stone, by whatever definition you have given yourself or others have given you. The story is meant to be very cathartic in a sense. It is, in essence, an origin story. It's about her learning to exist without him as the central part of her identity.
B: This is the first volume, how many do you have planned overall?
R: This first volume takes the story to the point where Rictus appears as a phantom that starts haunting Nora. This one story came in at about 110 pages. We knew what the story would be from beginning to end, then we reverse-engineered the kind of structure we wanted to take. When we were originally pitching to publishers, we tried to keep it as dynamic and flexible as possible to make sure it could move in and out whether it be single issues or a full graphic novel. Eventually, we settled on it being three volumes. The way the narrative flows is you have the first part which sets up the gap and explores how things are at the beginning of the story. The second volume is going back in time and showing the history of Nora and Rictus. Then the third one is something really special because it exists entirely in Nora's mind. When we showed it to publishers, some of the ones we spoke to showed some interest but it wasn't something that I thought would be financially viable to make sure everyone got paid what they deserve. We tried to find the right balance for a story that has a beginning, middle, and an end that can go out and exist on its own but wouldn't require so much capital that it would be unrealistic to try and get funding. If we could go back, it would probably be shaped a little differently. After the Kickstarter is finished, if we haven't been funded we'll probably try and maybe restructure into smaller pieces.
B: Is there anything you want to add about Pyre that we haven't touched on so far?
R: It's something I'm immensely proud of. The experience itself has been a huge learning opportunity.
B: Rob, I appreciate you hanging out. It's been really nice to chat with a fellow Yeti. Appreciate you. Alright, take care, everyone.