I Can Now Spell CTHULHU Without Looking It Up - An Interview with RUSSELL NOHELTY
Russell Nohelty felt right at home in the Yeti Cave chatting with Jimmy Gaspero about the third volume of the Cthulhu is Hard to Spell Anthology series. Russell discusses the enduring appeal of Cthulhu, the importance of a true All-Ages Anthology, and then teaches a mini class on crowdfunding and growing your audience.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Russell, thank you for joining me in the Yeti Cave to discuss Cthulhu is Hard to Spell: Battle Royale, which is coming to Kickstarter on February 22nd. How have you been doing?
RUSSELL NOHELTY: I’m doing okay. Thank you for starting with an easy one.
CBY: Cthulhu was first introduced in the story “Call of Cthulhu” by H.P. Lovecraft in 1928. What do you think is the enduring appeal of Cthulhu as a character?
RN: The problem with Lovecraft, when it comes to mythology at least, is that most of the gods in his pantheon, save Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, Dagon, and a couple others, are off somewhere, not caring about humanity a little bit.
They don’t want anything to do with us, which makes it hard to connect with them as a fan.
However, Cthulhu is one god that had a presence in the stories, if only mostly in legends. There were cults devoted to them, and his followers were active inside the stories.
The thing that drove me to the mythos was that the gods didn’t care at all about humanity. They had their own stuff going on, while other pantheons are built on the idea that humanity is fundamentally special.
I think the brilliance of the mythos is that it is one of very few that aren’t built on religion, so it could more accurately reflect how gods probably see humanity, if they exist.
Cthulhu is as good a stand-in for that as anything. Plus, it helps that their name is, by Lovecraft standards, quite normal. No commas, or glottal stop, so it’s easier to pronounce than many of the other gods.
CBY: The campaign page states that the Anthology is good for those who know nothing about Lovecraft and those who love Lovecraft “deep in their bones”. As the editor, with so many different writers and artists involved, how do you manage that? How hands-on do you have to be in shaping these stories?
RN: From an editorial standpoint, while there are many books set in Lovecraft’s universe, there is very little about the gods and monsters, aside from the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game.
That gave us a huge tapestry to explore to satisfy new and existing fans.
Lovecraft has a relatively high barrier to entry since he was very stingy with his mythology, often placing world-building elements in random places within his tales, and never collecting them.
By focusing on the mythology, and specifically the gods itself, it allowed us to tell the origin story of the Lovecraft universe, along with other stories that very few had ever delved into his work enough to learn, even hardcore fans.
This gave a satisfying collection for new fans who wanted to learn more about the mythology so they can appreciate the work more, and existing fans, who wanted an easy and fun reference to learn more about the mythology.
CBY: Speaking of the many artists and writers involved over the 3 volumes of Cthulhu is Hard to Spell, how are folks recruited for this? Did you do open submissions, were creators invited to pitch a story, or hand selected?
RN: It was a combination. There was an open submission period, but Kris and I did contact several dozen creators to personally invite them.
This is the third and final volume, so I wanted to make sure I got a chance to work with as many creators on my list as possible. It was important for us to have a collection of veteran creators and new voices who had never worked in the Lovecraft universe for this series to show many different voices.
CBY: Was it important for you that the Anthology be all ages appropriate?
RN: Very important. After Monsters and Other Scary Shit, our first anthology, the major complaint we received was that fans couldn’t share it with their family. I learned later that most anthologies are bought for younger readers, so it was an easy decision to make.
We wanted as many people to join the madness as possible, and one of the things that was very important to me was that you could hand this to anyone and they could get it, from the young to the old.
While the anthology is all ages appropriate, what that really means is that there is no cursing, sex, blood, or violence you wouldn’t see on Disney or Nickelodeon.
Many of the stories are quite complex, and kids probably wouldn’t get it. However, now that we’ve been doing anthologies since 2017, it’s been amazing to watch kids transition from reading the very simple stories to the more complex, and to have their favorites change over the years.
CBY: The bio on your website says that your books are “injected with a hefty dose of humor”, and it’s evident from that bio itself how important humor is to you. How do you make Cthulhu, described as the “source of constant subconscious anxiety for all mankind” funny? I ask because I think it’s important that it can be funny.
RN: Well, Camus and the absurdists are my favorite school of authors and Dali’s surreal art is my favorite type of art, and they would say that nothing matters, and therefore, everything is ridiculous. So, you might as well laugh about it, since you can’t do anything else.
That’s a slight bastardization of the ethos, but for these purposes, it’s apt enough. I responded to that idea even young, and my love for that idea is only greater today as I age.
The idea that nothing matters, and nobody cares about you, is so absurd it can only be funny. I know Lovecraft saw the horror in that statement, but I see nothing but humor. That we will all return to dust and nothingness after living an insignificant life in the scale of the universe is so absurd I can’t think of any other way to describe it as hilarious.
Lovecraft always seemed to me like a person crippled by fear, though he was also a very strong-willed person. I prefer to see the joy in the fact that nothing matters.
That said, with 107 stories across three volumes, many of the stories are downright terrifying too. The idea of the anthology was that tonally the series was everything from cute to scary and everything in between, just like life.
CBY: This is the 3rd Lovecraft comic anthology, but you’ve created over 20 Kickstarter campaigns. I’m not asking you to give away all the secrets to your Crush it on Kickstarter course (available as a reward tier if you back the campaign) but for anyone looking to mount their first Kickstarter campaign, or crowdfund a comic with any of the other companies popping up like Zoop or TopatoGO, what have you learned over the years about running a successful Kickstarter?
RN: Well, I did give all the secrets away in Get Your Book Selling on Kickstarter. It’s my play by play, written by Monica Leonelle and myself, about my exact process to run a campaign.
But, honestly, the thing I learned most is that all you can rely on is the work. Whether it sells 1,000 copies, a million, or 10, all you can do is be proud of the work at the end of the day. Some of my best books are ones that literally never sell.
Now, that said, if you want to maximize your campaign, you need to have a mailing list that you communicate with once a week about projects, and you need to do the actions necessary to grow that mailing list (Bookfunnel, viral giveaways, cross promotion, advertising, etc.) in order to find the right people to buy your book.
That’s the most important thing. If you have a mailing list, then you have a homebase where you can always communicate with people without social media messing with your reach.
Then you have to think about book design. Every book has a different floor and ceiling for the amount it can raise based on the art style, subject matter, and more.
Some books are very niche and just don’t have a big audience. Others have a more commercial look and have a higher ceiling for the potential number of backers that it could attract by the end.
As evidence, I write pretty niche books, but I can still do pretty well because I am constantly engaged with growing my audience, and have been since 2014 when I launched my first book.
I can outraise most people because I’m committed to finding new people to buy my books through every means possible. You really need to be a student of marketing in order to get an audience, unless you are very lucky.
But when you get a backer, or a fan, you have to nurture them too, because they are precious. They resonate at the same frequency of weird as you, and that’s a rare thing.
However, at the end, when they take that all away, all you have is the work, and you’ll be selling it the rest of your life, so you need to be proud of it when you make it. You can always relaunch something you are proud of later, but if it’s not the best you can do, it can taint your brand.
CBY: Are there any comics at the top of your reading pile that still get you excited to make comics?
RN: Oh, I keep a list of my favorites. I’m not listing every creator for these, but I listed one so you can find it in case it’s obscure and you can’t find it by the name alone, but these are the books I keep coming back to, Serenity Rose being my favorite, which makes it even better that Aaron Alexovich has done the cover for all our anthologies.
A Flower in a Field of Lions by Tyler Button, et al., White Ash by Charlie Stickney et al., Above the Clouds by Melissa Pagluica, Rainbow in the Dark by Comfort Love and Adam Withers, Serenity Rose by Aaron Alexovich, Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, et al., Hyperbole and a Half by Allison Brosh, Will o' the Wisp by Megan Hutchison, et al., Destiny NY by Pat Shand, et al., Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Cubicles by Walter Ostlie, I Kill Giants by Man of Action, et al., Maus by Art Spiegelman, We3 by Grant Morrison, et al., Johnny the Homicidal Maniac by Jhonen Vasquez, The Sculptor by Scott McCloud, Sandman by Neil Gaiman, et al., Aster of Pan by Merwan, and For Goodness Sake by K Lynn Smith.
CBY: If you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 books do you want to make absolutely sure are included?
RN: We3 for just panel design, Maus for importance, and then Understanding Comics, which isn’t completely a comic, but the best guide to reading comics for newbies.
CBY: Any other projects CBY readers should check out?
RN: How much time do you have? Okay, I will try to do some deep cuts who are contributors to the anthology.
Lost at Sea is the last book by Timothy Fling and company. Angela Oddling has a great web series called Detached. Erik Lervold, my artist for the series, has a cool comic called The Red Calaveras (The Red Skulls). Fabrice Sapolsky has a company called FairSquare Comics, which has some cool books. Justin Peniston and Dan Schkade have a webcomic called Hunter Black with over 1,000 updates. Katrina Kunstmann does a book called Warhead, and the book I’m known for is Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter. If you like Cthulhu, you’ll probably like that one, and I will be ending that with the fourth volume in September.
There are so many others that are cool, too. There are 75 total creators in this volume, and over 150 creators throughout the series, so there are a lot of cool creators to find.
CBY: WOW! Where can you be found online?
RN: The best place is www.russellnohelty.com, where you can join my mailing list and get some free books to check out my work. Otherwise, I am on Facebook and Twitter.
CBY: Thank you so much, Russell.
RN: Thanks for having me.