The Road (Trip) to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions – An Interview with NICOLE D'ANDRIA
Nicole D'Andria is a freelance writer and editor with credits that include Tapas Media, Scout Comics, J-Novel, and Screen Rant. She writes articles for Comic Frontline, including her excellent interview series Kickstart the Week, and has adapted episodes of the television series Miraculous: Tales of Lady Bug and Cat Noir to comics. Her series Road Trip to Hell #1-3 is currently on Kickstarter and the campaign ends October 31, 2021.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Nicole, thank you so much for joining me here in the Yeti Cave to discuss Road Trip to Hell, your first creator-owned series, currently on Kickstarter. How have you been doing?
NICOLE D'ANDRIA: Thanks for having me in the Yeti Cave, Jimmy! I’ve been doing really well, super excited with how the Kickstarter has been going. Plus enjoying the spooky season.
CBY: Spooky Season is my favorite season! You have held several different positions throughout the comics industry, but what is your origin story as a creator? Were comics always a part of your life? And when did you know you wanted to work in the comics industry, write about comics, and create your own stories?
ND: My yearning to be a creator started and was born out of learning to love reading. I was actually a really bad reader when I was young. I had to be put in special classes to learn how to read. At first, I hated it because it was something I couldn’t easily grasp. But thanks to those classes, I learned to excel at reading and was enjoying Stephen King by the fourth grade. My love of reading expanded into a love of writing.
I wanted to write novels, but after discovering comics at a Sci-Fi Mega Fest that I went to as part of a surprise gift from my mom, I found myself hooked. My first work revolving around comics was writing about them on the pop culture website Player Affinity (later renamed Entertainment Fuse). This led me to meeting people online within the industry and starting to make the contacts I needed to be inspired to break in.
CBY: Road Trip to Hell is about Francis Rhoades. Unbeknownst to him, he is the son of the Devil. He learns this information at the same time he learns Satan has died and he has to travel to Hell to claim the throne, but several others would rather be in charge of Hell, and so they come after Francis. What inspired this story? Is this an idea you worked on for a while?
ND: Psychological concepts are really interesting to me, I even minored in psychology at college. I always thought the Nature vs. Nurture argument was fascinating, and I wanted to do the ultimate Nature vs. Nurture story. But I felt like a lot of people simply figured it was always Nurture that would win over Nature, so I put the idea on the backburner for a while, until I watched the Rosemary’s Baby remake with my friend and we argued about whether Satan’s child would grow up to be evil or not. I knew that, if it was a compelling enough argument for us to talk about, then I could make it into a compelling story.
I started working on the script when I was still in college, over three years now. I used the scripts for the first two issues as part of my capstone course project, which meant I was able to get feedback from my fellow classmates about them (and I got to hear it read aloud, which was a very odd but exciting experience).
CBY: You use real historical figures, both to aid Francis, like Joan of Arc, and to try to kill him, but I don’t want to give any of those away. History has no shortage of evil, power-hungry individuals that might want to be crowned King of Hell – how did you decide who you wanted to use in this story? Was there anyone you wanted, but thought it was “too soon” or had some other reason they didn’t make the cut?
ND: I still have plenty of historical figures who have not yet made appearances or who have only briefly appeared in the issues that have come out so far that I definitely plan on fleshing out more. But of the ones who have appeared so far, I wanted to go with some of the historical figures who people would be the most familiar with to really get them behind Francis on his journey to stop some of the worst people who have ever lived from getting their hands on the power of Hell.
There was a lot of research involved, including looking up lists of who people considered to be the evilest people who ever lived, and numerous trips to my campus library at the time to do some in-depth research along with my online searches. I am trying to be cognizant for future issues in case there are people who died “too soon” or if I feel like it would be in bad taste to include them, but that is a hurdle I haven’t quite had to leap yet.
CBY: I read issues #1-3 and really enjoyed the comedic moments. The Kickstarter compares the comedy and character development to Reaper and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it reminded me of Crowley-centric (if you know that character) episodes of Supernatural, especially in the way there are these concepts of Heaven and Hell that are bound by certain rules. Do you think it’s important or necessary when writing stories using supernatural elements to clearly define the world for the reader, or is it more for comedic purposes to constrain those fantastical elements?
ND: I love this question, though I feel like I’m giving a sort of non-answer to it! Depending on the world you’re setting up and the vibe you’re going for, there are plenty of good reasons to give your world its own form of logic. I think this will help situate your readers into your world and let them know that while there are fantastic elements, just like in the real world, there are limitations that can cause problems. Problems the reader may be able to relate to (hopefully on a smaller scale, in this case). These rules can sometimes be for comedic purposes, sometimes for tragic purposes, and if I do my job right for this series, I’m hoping to hit both of those purposes.
CBY: As I said above, Francis is aided by Joan of Arc and he also has his sister, Star, with him. What inspired you to use Joan of Arc as Francis’s guardian angel?
ND: It’s funny, I originally wasn’t going to use Joan of Arc. I wanted to throw Francis a bone and give him some heavenly help since I was throwing him into the lion’s den with basically just a twig to protect him. I really like badass female characters, so immediately I thought: Joan of Arc. But during my research, I realized that it is such a stereotype to give Joan a sword.
ND: I came up with a completely different character to be Francis’ guardian angel, who I won’t spoil here since it’s a character I grew fond of and hope to use in the future. But I kept coming back to Joan. And I realized...I’m literally writing a story about a guy who is the son of the Devil running away from Hell’s escapees. I don’t have to make everything realistic. And besides, Joan has been dead for hundreds of years...so why not pick up a sword and train with the legendary archangels? That could even make for some good content for a future issue...
Plus I’m still planning on incorporating historical elements into her character since I think elements of truth woven into these historical characters make them feel more alive. That should even out the fact that I’m having her wield a sword that would give Red Sonja a run for her money.
CBY: When we meet Star, she is undergoing treatment for cancer. Creating a character like Star for this story seems both unique and important. I can’t think of many characters that are undergoing treatment for a serious illness in a story that isn’t strictly dramatic. Star also finds herself in a tough situation due to Francis but is by no means a typical damsel in distress. She is quite incredible. Was there any person or people that inspired/influenced you to create Star?
ND: I like to think of Star as an idealized version of myself (AKA the cool chick I will never be, haha). It’s interesting because, like with Joan, Star originally wasn’t going to be in the comic. I wanted the story to start in a hospital, so I was originally going to make Francis a nurse and the “Star” equivalent would have been his love interest, a fellow nurse at the hospital. But I didn’t really have an interest in cramming that romantic story into this... but at the same time, I didn’t want to lose the hospital setting.
So, I started thinking, why not have him visit a patient instead? His own found family that could combat his biological one? Enter Star, a wise-cracking, super protective sister who looks cancer in the face and laughs (it is the best medicine, after all!). I also love writing characters that are not typically portrayed in the media, so I’m really happy that you found Star to be unique. I hope readers that go through this journey will find her inspiring!
CBY: The artwork for Road Trip to Hell is created by Monika Maccagni on pencils and inks, Joaquin Pereyra is the colorist, Justin Birch is the letterer, and Brant Fowler created the logo. I believe it has been the same creative team for all three (3) issues. How did everyone come together and what do you think makes your collaboration so successful? Have there been any pages or panels that you’ve gotten the art for that have surprised you that you can talk about without spoiling any of the issues?
ND: Everyone on this title I met through my freelance work writing and editing in the comic book sphere. I first became aware of Monika’s amazing art style when I was editing Vampblade, which featured her gorgeous action-packed panels. Another title on my radar because I believe I helped out with it PR-wise was MediSin. I fell in love with the color palette, so I reached out to the creator and got into contact with the colorist, Joaquin. Justin was the letterer for several of the comic book adaptations I worked on, including Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir and Peter David’s Artful. I knew for sure after working with him that if I wanted to have a letterer on my team, it would have to be Justin. Lastly, I met Brant Fowler through writing for Comic Frontline, a comic book-centric website that I still write for today. I’ve even been an editor on a few of his awesome comic book projects as well, like The Last Ember. He’s always been a great friend, and I knew I wanted to have his talented design work be part of the covers for Road Trip to Hell.
CBY: What has your experience been like running a Kickstarter, and do you have any advice for someone planning to self-publish their own comics? For Comic Frontline, you have a feature called ”Kickstart the Week” where you interview creators running a Kickstarter campaign. Is there any advice that you found particularly valuable from any creator during the “Kickstart the Week” interviews?
ND: This is the third Kickstarter I’ve run now, and each of them has been the most satisfying (and anxiety-inducing) experience I’ve ever had. I’m always blown away by people who put their hard-earned cash toward my project and I’m so grateful for each and every one of them.
Definitely plan out how you will be publicizing your campaign pre-launch. Have interviews scheduled and promote your project like crazy on social media. I was a bit late in the game, but I created a newsletter that I hope to help build up an email list. These are all things you should be doing not only throughout the campaign but leading up to it as well. Make sure you do your research before jumping into it too and figure out exactly how much you need. Budget accordingly and make sure your reward tiers fit that budget.
I think the most valuable advice I’ve heard from creators, which is also the advice I’ve heard the most often and is the most straightforward of all, is to keep at it. Don’t give up. If this is something you’re passionate about, you have to work at it. Though at the same time, avoid letting all that hard work burn you out! It’s a difficult balance that I’ve struggled with before, but you need to make sure to take care of yourself while keeping your passion for what you love alive.
CBY: As someone that has worked in marketing prior to making your own creator-owned series, do you ever find it difficult to market/promote yourself when running a Kickstarter or as a freelance writer/editor? What advice would you give to any creators about the best ways to market/promote their work?
ND: It’s very weird to be promoting myself rather than someone else. I think that’s part of why it took me so long to start a newsletter, because its main focus is on my work, even if it’s being a part of someone else’s project.
When marketing your book, I do recommend comparing it to other well-known works that you feel truly resonate with your series. It helps people who are coming in blind to your book to find some common ground. Plus show them finished pages so they can truly see what the finished work will look like, even if you can only afford a handful of pages.
It’s also important to not be afraid to fail. I still get so nervous when I do so much as compose a tweet or write a Kickstarter update, but at the end of the day, consistent communication is key. Don’t give people a chance to forget about your project! Utilize your social media and reach out to your contacts.
CBY: Who are the comic creators working today that have inspired and influenced you?
ND: I’m bound to be leaving out some people because there are a lot! I’ll keep it to the two people who came to mind first: Jeff Lemire and Donny Cates.
Jeff Lemire has written some of the saddest stuff I’ve ever read, and it’s really resonated with me. I recently completed reading the entire run of Sweet Tooth, which was the first comic I remember ever making me cry. I want to be able to inspire strong emotions in a reader.
Donny Cates has written a bunch of works that I have enjoyed, but the one story of his that has never left my mind was his miniseries Buzzkill. Again, this is another tragic story with a bizarre concept that I fell in love with. I’d love to be able to create a story that stayed in people’s heads for years (for good reasons, I hope!).
CBY: Jeff Lemire is one of my favorite writers as well and I adore Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw's God Country. Do you have a long-term comics goal?
ND: I would love to be writing more comics professionally. I’m honestly in a really great position right now where I freelance edit and write full-time, mostly comic book related stuff but also other mediums including scholarly articles. A majority of my work is editing rather than writing, and I would like to be able to increase my writing output so I’m creating more of my own works.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve found I absolutely love adapting other people’s works. But there is something truly special about projects like Road Trip to Hell. Being able to create a successful Kickstarter for it and seeing people reacting to it positively is something I crave more of.
CBY: If you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 books do you want to make absolutely sure are included?
ND: Such a brutal question! I’m going to be leaving so many amazing comics out. Rather than pick an obvious one like Action Comics #1, I’m going to go with some comics that feature the first appearances of characters that I find interesting, which I would love to see in a museum. So, I’m thinking Swamp Thing #1 (first appearance of Alec Holland Swamp Thing, which is part of one of my favorite series), Detective Comics #140 (first appearance of my favorite Batman villain, the Riddler), and All-Star Western #10 (first appearance of Jonah Hex, a character I find fascinating, although my favorite run is Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti’s).
CBY: Some interesting choices. I love those. Are you currently working on any other projects CBY readers should check out?
ND: I am working on a ton of projects that I’d love to shout out, though they’re mostly editing-related. On the writing side, I’m scripting the miniseries Kunoichi Kate Bryant, which is based on characters created by Kevin Given (and issue one is available on IndyPlanet).
I’m regularly editing works for Scout Comics, Tapas Media, and J-Novel that I would all recommend checking out. Some highlights include Scout’s Impossible Jones from the legendary creative team of Karl Kesel (Harley Quinn) and David Hahn (Batman ‘66). Or if you’re into romance stories, Comedown Machine and Necorbride are releasing new webcomic episodes every week on Tapas.
CBY: Do you have a website and/or are you active on Twitter? Anywhere else you can be found online?
ND: I have a website where I try to list all of my work! You can check it out at http://www.comicmaven.com/
I also recently started a newsletter that everyone can consider checking out and subscribing to, which updates about once a month: https://comicmaven.substack.com/
And please feel free to say hi on Twitter! It’s the main social media platform that I use. My account is @Comic_Maven.
CBY: Thank you so much, Nicole!
ND: Thank you again for taking the time to do this, Jimmy, and for your thoughtful questions! :)