Jordan Thomas is a successful Kickstarter creator and enthusiastic supporter. His latest project is issue #2 of WEIRD WORK, a “multi-colored sci-fi psychedelic-noir series.” Jordan steps in and brightens up the Yeti Cave.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Let us start off with WEIRD WORK (presently exceeding its funding goal). This book reminds me of other trippy colorful comics like Strange Days, Zot, Madman and Zenith. Where did the inception of this book come from and how did you pitch it to the creative team?
JORDAN THOMAS: Well, first off, I certainly appreciate those comparisons. As people may know, we had a guest pinup by Brendan McCarthy on issue one and now we have Michael Allred providing his unique take on our characters for the current campaign, so definitely visually that’s the kind of company we’re keeping.
Shaky does totally have his own thing going on though, which brings it back round to your question. I put out a book called Quarantine last year where a different artist drew every page of the story. One of these artists was the man himself, Shaky Kane. The thing was that I didn’t feel like the page Shaky got to work on really took advantage of Shaky’s talents, so I asked him if he’d be up for doing something longer together, and thankfully he said yes – probably expecting a short comic or something, not the 100+ page epic we’ve ended up with – so I set about creating a story specifically for Shaky. The end result being what we’re discussing – Weird Work.
CBY: It’s clear you have an idea of the WEIRD WORK world, with its unique characters, government and drugs. I love that a drug is called Froth, which seems so…right. Did you create the world before writing the story or did they come to life as you started writing?
JT: I guess the idea of the world came out of wanting to write something Shaky could just let loose in. Anyone familiar with Shaky’s work will know he likes to leave our Earthly plane as much as possible, so a story without a single human character in a kind of noir/sci-fi mash-up setting felt like something that would be perfect for him.
From there, things came together in unison a bit. Story ideas came up, which built out how the world would work from the initial idea I had. Part of the freedom I created meant if halfway through I decided I wanted a desert landscape or a prison in amongst the cliffs with pterodactyl-like creatures patrolling it, there was no reason I couldn’t just throw it in.
CBY: Looking at your books, I noticed you don’t credit an editor. I’ve interviewed several editors and they always mention what they bring to a book. I always hear the phrase “always hire a letterer,” but an editor doesn’t seem to be a must-have [in the minds of creators]. Do you have an “unofficial” editor looking over your work, or do rely on each member of your team to self-police each other and the work?
JT: I share the scripts with friends who make comics. I’ve made a lot of friends in the comics world the past few years so I can always get a lot of feedback on my work. I have considered bringing an editor on board some projects. My issue has always been knowing who will bring something extra to the work to improve it as there are a lot of people out there saying they edit comics but they don’t necessarily have a track record of working on things I’ve enjoyed, but I’m certainly open to it.
Of course, there are a lot of editors out there I love: Karen Berger, Shelly Bond, Chris Conroy – I just need to find my version of them!
CBY: Let’s talk more about your creative team. Shaky Kane is solid, but I was also taken by Lettersquids' work. They took Kane’s character designs and made them more unique with specific word bubbles and sound effects. How do you describe the collaboration process on a book like this?
JT: Well, I’ve worked with Lettersquids on all my comics up to now. He tackled horror with Frank At Home On The Farm, crime/noir with Mugshots and the crazy challenge of matching a different artist on every page with Quarantine so I have total faith in him to always deliver the perfect lettering for whatever I’m working on. Like you say, Shaky’s style gives a lot of possibilities and Lettersquids always dives right in and commits to a lettering approach that becomes one with the art. I do think he particularly enjoys working on this series, and that comes through in his work.
In terms of the collaboration, on a new project, Lettersquids normally sends over a page to show the kind of vibe he’s going for and I give feedback on that and then he just goes off and does the rest. His instincts are normally spot on, so there’s generally only a few amends on any one issue. He’s a pleasure to work with.
CBY: This Kickstarter focuses on issue two (with some rewards providing issue one) of three issues. How long before you launch for issue three? Is WEIRD WORK a book that goes beyond three issues?
JT: Everything is written and Shaky works on it as if it were a graphic novel. He’ll have the rest of issue two completed before the Kickstarter ends and then crack straight on with issue three. I have a sci-fi anthology I’ve put together with some incredible artists set to hit Kickstarter early next year and I’d imagine Weird Work will then go live in May.
I like to wait till at least 75% of the book is done when launching a Kickstarter, as I want to get it to people within a few months of taking their money as opposed to making them wait 6-8 months if we were to launch with only a handful of pages finished.
And yes, there will be more Weird Work! I’m already over 30 pages into the script for the follow-up series, which I’m really loving writing. It’s going to be even wilder than this first series, as I’ve seen how positive the reaction has been to the slightly odder sections of the story, so I feel confident to push things even further.
CBY: Does that mean we are going to see more sci-fi WEIRDness in the follow-up? Did some of the reactions surprise you? Did it turn into a fun area to play in or was it more challenging to meet expectations?
JT: I don’t think I ever worry about meeting other people’s expectations. Of course, I love hearing that people have enjoyed a comic I’ve written but my starting point is always making sure I write something that I would want to read.
The reaction to Weird Work #1 and working with Shaky has just got me really excited to keep exploring this world, and it seems the deeper in I get, the more bizarre the characters are that turn up and the more experimental I’m getting with the story. I’m really excited to share what we have planned, but hopefully before that, people really enjoy issues two and three of this first series.
CBY: About the sci-fi anthology for 2022, anything you care to share?
JT: This has been in the works for some time. It’s looking like six stories between 5-18 pages each plus a bunch of cool pieces of art in between to create a kind of alternate reality where these stories reside.
I’m incredibly excited about the artists I’m getting to work with here. The main stories are being drawn by Lucy Sullivan, Anna Readman, Benjamin Filby, Mark Hughes, JF Totti and I think me and Shaky are even going to do a short Weird Work side story.
The tales themselves are pretty varied, but overall I wanted to go for a bit of a '70s aesthetic, like Alien for example, where everything is quite lived in and it’s not too out of touch with real life. It should be something special.
CBY: You have been successful with your projects on Kickstarter: Frank at Home on the Farm, Quarantine and Mugshots. There is a glut of projects that start and fail. I don’t want you to give advice, because every project and person is different, but what do you attribute to your success? (and yes, blow your horn, it’s deserved. Be humble-proud).
JT: I think everything I’ve worked on has been high-quality and we knew what we wanted to do when we started. Frank was all written before Clark Bint started on the art, so was Mugshots and Quarantine, and Weird Work was not far off being completely scripted when Shaky got started.
CBY: Before we move on, what is the origin of your BurntBarnComics imprint?
JT: I just thought it would be fun to have my own little publisher name. It’s not anything official, just a cool logo to put on the stuff I self-publish and, well…anyone who has read all of Frank At Home On The Farm will know where the name came from!
Without trying to be too humble though, the main reason for my success is that I’ve always picked wonderful artists to work with. Comics is a visual medium, and the best-written story will fall flat with comics buyers if the art isn’t pulling them in. I think I’m good at picking the right partner for the story I have. Clark was perfect for Frank and Weird Work was written specifically for Shaky, and as these stories were all written and planned out before the first Kickstarter, I’ve always been able to deliver fantastic-looking comics on time and with a story that makes sense and has a real sense of momentum behind it because we’ve worked our asses off to make it as good as possible. I think that comes through in the work and that’s what people react to and keeps them coming back for more.
I went into a comic shop in London recently to see if they wanted to stock some of the stuff I’ve written and their reaction was a bit of shock that it hadn’t been done with a big publisher as it looked so professional and that’s something I’m proud of.
CBY: This is a sound practice. I am a fan of the artists you have lined up for your anthology, so my interest is stirred. That said, have you had to put aside a story or project because you couldn’t get the creatives you wanted? Or did you change lanes and go in a totally different art direction? Were you glad or not glad you did?
JT: There were a few artists I wanted for Quarantine, such as Lucy Sullivan, who were too busy (I blame Fraser Campbell), so those pages changed a little. However, the main example of this was that I’d written a full five-issue mini-series that I just couldn’t find an artist for right at the start of my comics career, which is when I instead decided to move forward with Frank after seeing some of Clark Bint’s work. I approached him about the book, he said yes immediately, and off we went. Maybe I’ll try and get that other series off the ground again one day.
CBY: You reside in Spain. How is the “walk in” comic store market there? Is that why Kickstarter appeals to you over pitching your ideas to publishers?
JT: Spain has a fantastic comic book culture. I live in Granada and it’s got four comic shops even though it’s a smaller city than, say, Brighton. They love and respect comics in Europe in a way that I don’t think you always get in the UK and US. It also doesn’t hurt that right now some of the best artists working are Spanish: Bruno Redondo, Alvaro Martinez Bueno, Jorge Fornes, Pepe Larraz, as well as Granada’s own Jorge Jiminez and our incredible Weird Work #2 pinup artist Juan Jose Ryp – it’s a cool country to be living in right now when it comes to comics.
The reason Kickstarter appeals to me is that even with a big publisher like Image, there’s no guarantee you’ll make any money. Kickstarter allows us to make the books we want to make and ensure we don’t end up homeless doing it. With Frank, we used Kickstarter to fund all the art and printing costs and then we got a second life when Scout Comics picked up the series and put us in comic shops globally. I’m all for putting out my comics through publishers; I’m a huge fan of a lot of the publishers out there, but Kickstarter is a safer choice when you’re starting out, as well as giving us the chance to build a real bond with the people who buy what we make, which I think is very special.
Ideally, like we’re seeing start to happen, publishers won’t be put off by the fact that a series has already been available on Kickstarter. At the end of the day, no issue of Frank ever sold more than 250 copies on Kickstarter and our first issue through Scout sold 4500 copies, so it’s different markets, and both are great. Hopefully, you’ll be seeing more of the comics I work on being released through bigger publishers in the future, but I’ll always be involved in the Kickstarter world, as it’s given me so many opportunities and is a wonderful community of people.
CBY: Would you say that’s the secret to exponential growth: do professional-quality work?
JT: It depends what you want, really. There’s a whole world of amazing ‘zine’ type comics out there, which purposefully don’t want to look like anything you’d find in a comics shop. They revel in being underground. But yes, if your ambition is to make comics professionally, you need to show people exactly that. There’s really no limit on what you can do yourself these days. For instance, Comic Printing UK prints all my books, and the quality is better than the average mainstream book you’ll find in a comic shop.
CBY: Thanks for speaking with Comic Book Yeti and we wish you all the continuing success in all your projects. WEIRD WORK is midway through its Kickstarter campaign and is found here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/burntbarncomics/weird-work-2. Plenty of time to jump on board and join the Weirdness.
Jordan Thomas in all his weirdness and non-weirdness can be found at: https://linktr.ee/burntbarncomics