Writer: Chris Mancini
Artist: Fernando Pinto
Letterer: A Larger World Studios
Editor: Brian Augustyn
COMIC BOOK YETI: This is Byron O'Neal on behalf of Comic Book Yeti, sitting down with Chris Mancini, the creator of the comics, Rise of the Kung Fu Dragon Master and Long Ago and Far Away. After a recent successful Kickstarter campaign for Rise volume 1, Chris has just a little bit of time left on volume 2, which is currently live on Kickstarter. Thanks for joining me today, Chris.
CHRIS MANCINI: Great to be here. Yeah, it's a nail biter. It's down to the wire. It's ridiculously close, two hundred dollars close.
CBY: I checked it just a little while ago. I'm a backer myself so I really hope it goes through. I really enjoyed catching up on Volume 1 this past week. It's a lot of fun.
I wanted to start off with Rise of the Kung Fu Dragon Master as an ongoing project, and then look at your recently launched White Cat Entertainment company. Between working in the film industry, podcasting, writing comics, and writing books, you have a lot going on.
CM: I do, I do. I always say I'm gonna focus on just one thing, and then it starts branching out every single time because I like to do so many different things.
CBY: That sounds similar. I keep taking on projects. I'm an idea person so it just branches out far too quickly for me to keep up with everything.
When I was reading Rise of the Kung Fu Dragon Master volume 1, it took me back to my own childhood. There's some Big Trouble in Little China elements in there with these epic action scenes that are mixed with punchy one-liners and humor. What are your inspirations behind the ongoing series and can we look for more of the same from volume 2?
CM: Absolutely. My inspiration was all the kinds of movies, like UHF or Black Belt Theater that I used to watch as a kid, everything from Big Trouble in Little China to even 80s buddy comedies, there's probably a little bit of Goonies and Indiana Jones in there as well. I always wanted to mix all of those things together, but also to then modernize them so you get a taste of the nostalgia you grew up with but also to keep it fresh and new. I wanted to put some modern themes in it, like how anger and violence can ultimately destroy everything and there's no way to move forward. If you continue to embrace anger and violence, if you've got a character where that's all he does, how does he move forward? How does he gain control over his life? I also wanted to make sure there were fights, jokes, dragons, and monsters in it as well. I wanted to put everything together.
"What I also love is that there's a great creator, and Kickstarter, and comic book community that is very supportive of each other. I make sure I support other creators as well because I feel like if we don't support each other, the audience won't support us either."
CBY: Comedy seems to be something that's just intrinsic to everything you do, to your storytelling style. There's also some really clever social commentary that was subtly thrown in there. Rick, your unlikely hero, is a bit of a buffoon. He's presented as a little bit culturally insensitive and naïve. Is this designed to portray his growth over time or is there a larger message here?
CM: Yep. It's definitely both because I like flawed protagonists because they have a much further journey to go on. I definitely wanted to reflect our times, but also doing it in a funny way so it's a little more subversive where there's commentary, satire, and some insights that are stealthy that you may not be noticing because you're laughing, but then ultimately it leads to poignant moments, soul searching, and all of those great character moments you can have in between the epic fights.
To answer one of your earlier questions, there're a couple more volumes planned. Volume 2 will finish the first story and then we're gonna do Fall of the Kung Fu Dragon Master in two volumes, following the 80s movie titles, and then of course, Return of the Kung Fu Dragon Master. That'll be another two volumes. So, we're looking at least 600 pages. Then if I can get to it, I will be doing more Long Ago and Far Away and then ultimately with the seventh graphic novel, I'm hoping, will be a crossover between the worlds but that's a couple of years out.
CBY: That's very ambitious. I'm excited to hear that there's a lot more planned.
You've worked with Fernando Pinto on several projects now. There's clearly a good chemistry between the two of you and your larger creative team. How did you originally link up to put all these minds together?
CM: It always seems that way, once you get something done it was seamless. Oh, these people were perfect for this, and it happened very easily and seamlessly. That's never the case. My original book Long Ago and Far Away was supposed to be on Mark Waid's site Thrillbent. It was all funded and ready to go and then all the funding fell out. Mark helped shepherd it and helped me to get it through crowdfunding and Kickstarter and helped with an artist search. A couple artists fell out, and I went back to my podcasting friends, because I have a network of podcasters and comedy friends. I said, who do you guys like to work with? I need somebody with a really fun, energetic style. It can't be super realistic. It needs to feel funny, and bright, and fun because that'll make it more obvious that it is a comedy. But also, it's easier to get some more subversive satire and material in there when you're put a little bit off guard by a more cartoony style. I talked to my buddy Jonathan London over at Geekscape, and he said you gotta hire Fernando. I saw his work. It was great. We hit it off, and we started working together. We developed a really great working relationship. He was already a fan of my older podcast, Comedy Film Nerds, so I didn't have to explain the humor to him, which was great. We created this great relationship and rapport. Now we have a shorthand so it's actually easier and quicker to create books together. It's been great and as you know, from working with teams, a great team elevates you as an artist. When you have great people working with you, they make you look even better. That's what Fernando does.
"What I wanted to do is to take everything I've done over the years and focus it into one company that focuses on storytelling through podcasts, and comics, and film, and TV."
CBY: The pacing of the visual narrative that he creates reads a whole lot like an animated series. There's heavier linear motion that the action scenes are punctuated with and sound shapes, that work really well, because they look like throwing stars. I was reading that Long Ago and Far Away was being developed into a TV series. Given your background, working in all these multiple genres, is this something you're planning on for this project?
CM: It's always in the back of every creator's head, how can this translate to another medium, a film or television show, but the first interesting thing is that it has to stand on its own. It has to be a fun comic. It has to be a great story otherwise you're dead in the water before you can think about an adaptation. One of the reasons I went with Starburns Press for Long Ago and Far Away is because they wanted to develop it into an animated show. They're the company that does Rick and Morty and a bunch of other animated shows. So, I hooked up with another showrunner, Jake Cogan who's done The Simpsons and Frasier, and we pitched it to a couple animated companies. Right now, with the pandemic, everything's kind of on hold a bit but it is developed. We are hoping to get it pitched to more places and hopefully find a buyer for that show. For Rise of the Kung Fu Dragon Master, I don't really see it as a TV show. I see it more as a film or a series of films, maybe a trilogy. I could be wrong, but I don't see it as sustainable for a long-form TV show. I'd like to see it as a series of feature films for sure.
CBY: You've got this huge background, soap operas, horror films, writing parent books. As a parent myself, I feel like a soap opera combined with a horror story is the story of parenting sometimes.
CM: They are all more closely related than people think.
CBY: Yes, absolutely. So, what made you want to get into comics? With all this other stuff that you've been doing, what was, alright now I want to make comics?
CM: It's always been a part of me and a part of my DNA, and it wasn't just a sudden decision. When I was a teenager, I was working for a local newspaper in Chester County and had the fortune of interviewing Chuck Dixon. He was really forthcoming about the process and told me about how he wrote his first Savage Sword of Conan behind a security desk right before he got famous. That always resonated with me. I've been reading comics, probably since I was 13. When I got my first Spider-Man comic, sent to me in the mail by my parents who had gotten me a Spider-Man subscription, this is back when you could get comic books mailed to you that weren't destroyed by the US Postal Service. I remember the cover. I can't remember exactly what the story was exactly, but it had Spider-Man fighting a giant wheel and a guy on a rocket skateboard, the Rocket Racer. That's all I remember, but I've been reading and loving comics ever since probably about age 13. I've done other things in my career, but it's always been in the back of my head. I'd always love to do this, and now I got to stop saying I want to do it. So the last couple years, I decided I'm doing it. I'm getting into comics, and I haven't looked back. I've loved every minute of it, even the hard parts.
CBY: I just really got back into comics myself. It sounds like we're probably about the same age since we share very similar influences. I got out of it for a while, and now coming back it seems like there's a huge movement in the medium towards creators wanting to control their own projects. We're seeing this huge surge in crowdfunded projects and more, and more being successful. Several Kickstarter projects in yourself, what do you consider lessons learned and advice for people thinking about putting out their own?
CM: The first thing is you take a step back and realize that the gatekeepers don't matter as much anymore. When you look at comics, there's also a broader scope now, YouTube, short films, and feature films. Content creators can create now without getting permission from a studio or somebody else [to] outsource funding. You can do it on your own. That's what's great too about comics, you don't have to do a full graphic novel. You could just try to raise a couple hundred bucks to pay an artist and do one issue. There are ways to ramp up and do it slowly. I think it's fantastic. What I also love is that there's a great creator, and Kickstarter, and comic book community that is very supportive of each other. I make sure I support other creators as well because I feel like if we don't support each other, the audience won't support us either. So I feel like that's a really critical element of crowdfunding and comics, if you want to create, also be involved in other people creating too. I try to back as much stuff as I can.
CBY: Did you start it with the intention of expanding it to help other creators launch their work, or is it more focused on what you're doing right now?
CM: Right now, it's focused on what I'm doing. I am backing some other people's Kickstarters, but as far as helping other people get things made, I'm not quite there yet. I would like to explore that in the future because there's a number of different kind of things in play right now as a lot of different small presses crop up. I'm on the fence right now about how to proceed with White Cat Entertainment as far as the publishing goes. Do I hook up with a small press publisher and have an imprint somewhere, or do I just kind of go it alone and publish my own work? I'm not doing floppies. I'm only doing graphic novels so it's a bit more of a specific fit. It's one of those things where it's pluses and minuses, pros and cons. If I hook up with another publisher, that's great because I have a lot of that work off my plate but you're dealing with a partner. Sometimes, it's hard to get paid. As we've seen with some of these other publishers, it's hard to get reporting. Sometimes shady deals will take your rights away, all of those things are a factor. Now going and doing it on your own, it's a ton more work but once you set up that infrastructure it can work in your favor. So I'm kind of on the fence right now, but I'm leaning more towards having White Cat Entertainment also become a publisher as well.
CBY: You started White Cat Entertainment in 2020. I read on your website about it being a
lovely tribute to your cat, Avatar. Anybody listening should go check that out.
CM: For sure, she was my writing partner. I had a white cat who was almost 21 years old. She would sit with me by the computer as I would write so I wanted to honor her a little bit with the new company.
"If you're connecting with someone on an emotional level, whatever art it is, whether it's writing comics, even just drawing a panel you can give comfort to somebody and take them away from their problems. Whether it's podcasts, movies, or TV, it doesn't matter. As entertainers and artists, I feel like that's part of our job to give someone something that they will find entertaining, to give them an emotional response, hopefully joy or if it's horror, a jolt of adrenaline. Ultimately, at the end of the day, no matter what you're doing as an artist you want to make somebody's life a little bit better and a little bit easier."
CBY: When you started the company was it a byproduct of your frustration with trying to find a small publishing company for your projects, and you just said, okay I want creative control here?
CM: No, it was more like I've been in entertainment for a long time, and I've been doing a lot of different things. By the way, it's a great idea to start a new company during a pandemic. I would really recommend it to start any new ventures where it's actually harder. (laughter) What I wanted to do is to take everything I've done over the years and focus it into one company that focuses on storytelling through podcasts, and comics, and film, and TV. That was more the impetus for what I was actually creating and because I can create on my own now, I can bring in partners, like a podcast network or a publisher. It wasn't critical for me to do what I do for me to get started. So, I'm crossing those bridges as I get to them. I may not cross them at all and just do everything in-house and on my own because these tools didn't exist before. Crowdfunding, store on your website, and all of these things you can do on your own now which is great.
CBY: How do you juggle all this stuff? A big challenge, as creators, is the marketing. So what advice do you have for people who are trying to get that started with respect to marketing? It is a question I've seen a lot.
CM: Yeah, it's super difficult for a number of reasons. First of all, it's hard to get through the noise because there's so much noise on the internet. The second is that there's a lot more things competing for people's attention. What I would suggest is to take a shotgun approach. Do everything, everything from approaching small comics blogs or small podcasts. Do all of those things because the one thing that I've learned about crowdfunding and Kickstarter is that there's the fantasy of, if I just get on this one show or if this one celebrity will retweet me then I'll be able to fund ten to twenty thousand dollars. It doesn't really work that way. If it does work that way, it's a very small percentage of the time. Generally, what you do for promotion and crowdfunding are all little, small steps. You go on a smaller podcast, maybe you get a couple of pledges. Somebody retweets you, you get a couple pledges. So, it all adds up to getting funded. One thing I will say is make sure you have a plan in place. Don't just put up a crowdfunding campaign and expect money to come in. It doesn't work that way and be very wary of all the charlatans and the scams that are going to come your way. Hey, pay us and we'll promote it. We'll get your funding; all you have to do is give a couple hundred dollars to companies you've never heard of. There's a lot of scams that target artists too, unfortunately.
CBY: If you could fix one thing in the comics medium, what would it be?
CM: I think the one thing that I would try to fix, and this is a little bit more down the line, is seeing comic creators and their creations get better compensation for when licensing occurs for film and television. I see it online all day long, creators create these characters, they work for big companies and get shut out of the big profits in the process. So, I would say more creator-owned characters and watch the deals that you're signing. I turned down a publishing deal for Long Ago and Far Away where the publisher wanted half the media rights. I said there's no reason for you to take half the media rights, you're a comic book publishing company. Watch for deals like that, and I'd like to see creators get compensated more for their work especially in movies and television.
CBY: Where do you see comics, and more specifically the indie comic scene, going in the next few years?
CM: I think a lot of things are headed in the right direction, which is good. I'm trying to add some good news here too. With the support and wellspring of talent in comics, funding and crowdfunding, and also small press publishers, the buy-in and the entry points are much easier and lower. I think we're going to see more creators getting together to create their own publishing arms or publishing companies, I think we're gonna see more of that. I think we're gonna see companies just do all digital and not worry about hard copies anymore. I think that's also an avenue some people are taking. I think it's all good. The direction we need to go in is more creators getting work into more hands, whether those are physical books or digital, and I think we're headed in that direction which makes me happy.
Can I ask a question?
CBY: (laughs) You can ask a question.
CM: What are your favorite comic book genres?
CBY: I guess I'm, first and foremost, a fantasy fan. Then secondarily, I guess it would be horror and capes, the traditional superhero stuff. I cut my teeth when I was eight years old with West Coast Avengers and Amazing Spider-Man. I moved on to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles which was a big thing back in the 90s. I've worked in three different comic shops. My first three jobs were in comic book shops. I hope I am not the catalyst for the demise of said comic book shops. Then, the natural transition was into the Vertigo stuff. I really enjoyed Shade: The Changing Man, and Sandman, and Hellblazer and that sort of thing. So, that's where I'm coming from. I'm just so fascinated by the diversity of things that are available now. I'm a big fan of Eric Powell and his Hillbilly series. I push that as much as I can, shout out to Eric.
What about you? I'm blathering on. What kind of comics are you into?
CM: Well, I started out with the classics and traditional. It was all Spider-Man, Daredevil, Avengers. I love Superman and Captain America, all the classics. Then as I got older, I started going more towards, like you were saying, the Vertigo lines. I devoured Sandman, Hellblazer, and all of those. I'm still following the Mignolaverse, like Hellboy and B.P.R.D. I'm really enjoying those, and I'm exploring a couple of new ones that I wasn't familiar with. There was one out a couple of years ago that I absolutely loved called, Suicide Risk. It was fantastic, about what would happen if all the superheroes were gone but the supervillains remained. For some reason, even the superheroes became supervillains. It was a Mike Carey book, and they went into some really interesting places. You know, I still go back and read some old Doctor Strange and picked up a couple of Star Trek ones. I pick and choose, and the only ones that I definitely stick with, no matter what comes out, is probably the Mignolaverse but everything else I pick and choose a little bit.
CBY: You've written books, produced for TV, what's next for you beyond the comics world? It sounds like you're trying to integrate all these things.
CM: Yes, and that's one of the reasons I wanted to create the company. I've got two storytelling podcasts. One of them is a fantasy, anti-anxiety storytelling book called, "The Quiet Journeys of Professor Atwood," about a scientist professor who goes on these journeys, but it's also calming and quieting. With everything going on, I wanted to create something that can actually help people, to have them relax, take the temperature down, and help them sleep. It's got music and sound design, and it's very highly produced as a podcast. I'm also looking into ways to actually keep that calming, feeling going through animation, or possibly, a visual graphic novel. Then, I have another podcast that's actually a horror podcast that's like a Twilight Zone called "Conversations from the Abyss." It's conversations between two living things possibly, but they're all creepy and weird conversations that you're overhearing. That is definitely adaptable to other means. Basically, it's stories that keep you awake and stories to help you sleep. I want to integrate the graphic novels with everything else that I'm doing. Fernando and I have a couple other things in development. I'm trying to figure out ways to create a world where you're listening through a podcast, but also the graphic novel is a part of the world. So to get the full story, you integrate into everything. That's still a nut to crack, but right now I'm just concentrating on building up the company through graphic novels and podcasts then having them integrated, like a phase two, and expanding it from there.
CBY: It sounds like you're also trying to add a mental health element. I think that is something that's really important. How, as a creator, can you address that? How do we expand upon it in the comic format?
CM: It's interesting as artists. Even when I was doing "Comedy Film Nerds" for a decade, we were just joking around talking about movies, but we would always get emails about how much we helped people and how we'd helped them get through tough times. We did a whole documentary about it where we interviewed fans from all over the world. It translates to comics for sure. If you're connecting with someone on an emotional level, whatever art it is, whether it's writing comics, even just drawing a panel you can give comfort to somebody and take them away from their problems. Whether it's podcasts, movies, or TV, it doesn't matter. As entertainers and artists, I feel like that's part of our job to give someone something that they will find entertaining, to give them an emotional response, hopefully joy or, if it's horror, a jolt of adrenaline. Ultimately, at the end of the day, no matter what you're doing as an artist you want to make somebody's life a little bit better and a little bit easier. I try to do that through laughter and with my stories. If I can make somebody laugh and smile while also getting into some character elements and revelations into human nature, great. I always go back to the Gene Roddenberry model. Entertain first, teach second, but have depth in your storytelling and in your art, where both are there for people to enjoy but also give them comfort and hopefully learn something from it too.
CBY: We have a couple new people that have popped in. Again, we are open for listener questions if anybody has a question.
Wells Thompson: Chris, I'm curious. What is your post Kickstarter strategy for keeping the book alive and getting it past that initial audience?
CM: The day after it funds, I'm going to take Twitter off my phone. That's the first thing I'm going to do. (laughter) Then as we're producing the book and getting it made, I'm going to be working on one of two things: either partnering with a small press publisher or working on the infrastructure to start publishing on my own. As I was telling Byron, I'm still on the fence about leaning more towards doing it all on our own. What I will also be doing, after that's all settled, is I will be going into promotion mode. Going on more shows and doing more press releases to promote the company and the books and getting everything out there because creating is great, but you got to promote as much as I hate doing it. It's a necessity. People need to know that you're out there and what you're doing is out there.
CBY: Chris, is there anything you'd like to add that we haven't touched upon?
CM: One of the things that I would like to add is I'm always interested in discovering new books. You can find me on Twitter. Let me know about your book. I'll often back things if they look cool to me. And if you want to learn more about me and what I do, the films, the books, and everything else, you just go to the website. That's the hub, www.whitecatentertainment.com. You can get the graphic novels. You can also join my mailing list and read about everything else there. The main thing I want people to know from this is, I'm looking at the Kickstarter page right now, there's thirty-seven hours left, and two hundred and forty dollars to go. We're 14 backers away from the first stretch goal. So, stop what you're doing immediately and pledge and get us over the finish line.
CBY: I'll echo that. As a backer, I would absolutely love to see this thing get across the line. We got a little bit of time left. I'll keep posting, and I wish you the best of luck. I'm looking forward to volume two's release.
It's been a pleasure having you on today. Hope you had a good time.
CM: Thanks, Byron. Always a pleasure and anytime you want to talk comics, I'm down.
CBY: Sounds good. I appreciate you joining us today. Thank you. Thanks, everybody. Take care.
This is a transcript of the interview conducted on Twitter Spaces with Chris Mancini on Saturday, September 4, 2021. Since this interview was conducted, we are happy to report Chris' project, Rise of the Kung Fu Dragon Master, was fully funded. Minor content changes have been made to assist with readability.