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3 March 2018

Rik Jackson - interview & Kickstarter campaign

Introducing indie comics creator Rik Jackson

In a first for the blog, I'm delighted to present an interview with indie comics creator, and organiser of last year's Wimbledon Comic Art Festival, Rik Jackson, so without further ado let's here from the man himself...

Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself - what you do, where you work?
I’m Rik Jackson, comic creator and illustrator from south London. I’ve been in the comics game for a couple of years now. I out started doing occasional illustration work and commissions, but wanted to have a go at doing comics for real. I’d toyed with ideas in the past, but it wasn’t until 2015 that I made a proper go of it and published my first small press comic. Since then, I’ve just thrown myself into it - from attending and tabling at cons, bothering publishers and generally making a massive load of comics noise on social media. I don’t like to do things by halves, so I even tried my hand at convention organising last year, resulting in the successful Wimbledon Comic Art Festival.
Here's Rik at Wimbledon Comic Art Festival 2017

I’m currently Kickstarting a print collection of Rock In Purgatory (here) - my heavy metal horror comic - and getting ready to launch Heads! an ongoing title I have been planning since last summer. I’m also drawing commissions like a demon right now, which is great. Ideally, I’d love to be a full time illustrator - or at least earn enough from it to make changes to my life. I have a day job, like most small pressers, but would love to be able to either draw or manage comics events for a living.
Rock In Purgatory - Heavy Metal Horror Comic project video thumbnail

We first met at the Wimbledon Comic Art Festival (WCAF) - tell us how that came about? 
I was so pleased to have people like Dan Butcher, Matt Garvey, Gareth Brookes and David Broughton exhibiting at the event. I had the chance to give newbies like Heather Chapman and Kaylee McHugh a chance to showcase their work for the first time at a comics event. Plus, I managed to get indie publishers Centrala and Avery Hill down, which I was really proud of. I remember spending a day wondering how best to approach Avery Hill about coming, and all of a sudden they emailed me asking to be part of it!

I used to run a live music promotions company in my early twenties, so I’m an old hand at organising public events with lots of people and groups to manage. It was only a matter of time before I decided to apply my event skills to comics and have a crack at running a con. However, this involved booking twenty exhibitors, negotiating with a different type of venue and doing promoting in a new way for me, so it was quite a challenge. But I got the Deputy Mayor of Merton to open it with me, had a fantastic response from local press and managed to get the attention of a lot of comics groups, such as London Graphic Novel Network and The Manga Forum, so I must have been doing something right.

I was really lucky to form a great relationship with the team behind the venue, Merton Art Space. It’s a Merton Council venue which forms part of Wimbledon Library. They were looking for exciting new events to showcase what the new venue could do. I pitched my ideas, including the workshops I ran on the day, to the head of Libraries and Heritage. He loved it, and agreed to give me the venue for free as a one-off. This meant I was able to offer free tables to all exhibitors and not have to charge an entry fee.

What lessons did you learn about putting on that sort of event?
Having run a lot of events in the past, I was well prepared for a lot of issues that occurred on the day. Thankfully, they were very few! The main trouble I had was getting support from local businesses. I asked many for their help in promoting the event, offering advertising space and promotional space at the event in exchange. I think most businesses didn’t really understand what the event was or how it had the potential to reach new customers. Sadly, I didn’t have a similar event under my belt as a success story to show off, so that made it harder to get businesses involved.
Would you do it again?
Yes! It was hard work, very stressful and my family and friends had to put up with my diva strops getting worse as the day grew closer, but yes, I’d do it again. I think I enjoy organising and hosting events like this more than just having a table at a convention, strangely enough! I am currently looking at ideas for one or two 2018 events. Merton Art Space are interested in having me back, which would be great, but I’ve also had a lot of people asking for me to put on a similar event in Epsom.

Small Press day was announced for 7 July this year, so I am also considering doing a small pop-up event for that, possibly in Kingston or Croydon. I want to keep things interesting though. My favourite part of WCAF was the workshops, and whatever I do events-wise in the future, I want it to revolve around that. I found that I spent a lot of my time at WCAF speaking to parents whose kids had wanted to do one of the workshops. We ended up with kids drawing comics all day while parents had the chance to look around at stuff they never thought existed. It really helped as an icebreaker to get people who think comics are just for kids to discover there is so much more that the medium - and small press in particular - can offer them.
How did you get into comics initially? What comics did you read growing up?
I started out with Transformers and He-man comics as a kid and just kept picking things up and trying them. By the time I was in my teens I was an avid Batman fan, and still am. I used to draw a lot back then, and tried my hand at creating my own, original comics as well as fan comics of Batman and Green Lantern.

I dropped out of the comics scene for a while after that though. This was mainly down to money. I was spending about £45 a month just to keep up with all the Batman storylines (including crossovers and specials). I just couldn't sustain it anymore and started to feel a bit ripped off, to be honest. Looking back, I can see the business objective of pumping out overarching story arcs and guest appearances, but it put me off in the end, as it became harder for me to stay abreast of the stories I wanted to follow. I still have a massive collection of old Batman comics, which I do love to bits. Knightfall was the story that completely sucked me in and I have every issue from each title which made up the whole story, including a few issues signed by artists and writers.
Image result for batman knightfall

Who are your favourite writers and illustrators etc? Who's had the biggest influence o on you?
One of my favourite comic artists is Kelley Jones. I utterly adore his gothic style and it was his work on titles such as Batman, Venom and Deadman that made me get seriously into drawing comics.

Brett Blevins is another big influence. I didn’t think I liked his work at first, but I was drawn to it over and over. There is a grotesque elegance to a lot of his art, and his 90’s run on Shadow of the Bat was a wonderful take on Batman, in my opinion, particularly the villains.

Conversely, I’ve fallen in love with Laura Braga’s art. Often drawn digitally, her work is crisp and clean, but has such life in it. I’ve been a fan of hers since she worked on Witchblade.

In respect of writers, I have to tip my hat to the likes of Paul Dini and Grant Morrison for being master storytellers. Then there’s Garth Ennis, who’s dark and dirty writing has always given me an obscene amount of pleasure. And I’ll give Doug Moench a shout too; I feel his writing is sometimes overlooked as his work often feels so effortless, letting the panels breath and the beats fall effortlessly.

What comics are you buying at the moment? Where do you buy them?
From a mainstream point of view, I’m more into mini series than ongoings, as you can probably guess from my previous comments. I’ve been reading the new The Demon: Hell is Earth series, as I absolutely love Etrigan. The only ongoing title I’m picking up at the moment is Bettie Page from Dynamite - it's a great take on pulp spy and sci-fi comics.

I’ve got a pull list set up with my local branch of Forbidden Planet, which has these titles as well as my son’s Power Rangers and Doctor Who titles, as he’s a huge comics fan too.

Small press is hitting the mark for me more and more these days. I prefer one shots and anthologies, mainly because of the long wait between issues of ongoing small press titles. It’s understandable that it takes a long time, but I can see why this puts some people off indie comics. I don’t get out to conventions as much as I want to, so luckily creators tend to have good online stores. I’ve also recently discovered the Comicsplus app, which my library provides. It’s a bit cumbersome to use but has a great range of trades and individual issues available; I’m reading the Batman / The Shadow mini series on that at the moment.

What do you like to do when not creating comics?
I do as many creative things as possible. I’m a singer and guitarist in a metal band (look up
Circus Diabolica on Spotify if you dare!). We haven’t played shows for a little while but we are planning to get back on stage this year. One of the reasons I put on workshops at WCAF was because I love the idea of passing on skills and knowledge to people. I used to work as a volunteer at the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill and the main duty I had was showing people objects and getting them to work out what they were. It was fantastic working in such a creative and engaging way. I absolutely love anything immersive and educational like that. 

Ok, so you have a Kickstarter running at the moment - tell us about it
The campaign is for Rock In Purgatory (and can be found here), my heavy metal horror comic. The book is a collection of short strips which feature the outrageous death of hapless rock stars. Rock In Purgatory has been published in Popcorn Horror magazine, and the book collects all the published strips plus loads of unpublished ones from the series. The book is full colour, comes in as 48 pages and is presented as a cross between a comic and a parody of a music magazine. So, as well as the strips, you’ll find a poster pull out section, articles about bands who have influenced the stories and a backstage section where I show off concept art and creation processes.

Have you run a Kickstarter campaign before?
Yeah, I ran one for my first ever comic, Brutal Bombshells. That was a six story horror anthology in an EC Comics style, focusing on femme fatales. The campaign went well but didn’t fund until the final day, which was fortuitous! I learned a lot about the foibles of Kickstarter as the campaign went along and was lucky enough not to end up worse off by the time it was over. I have to say, though, I didn’t get the sense of stress that most people talk about. It would have been a frustrating waste of effort if it didn’t fund, but I didn’t get hung up on what would happen if it didn’t fund.

What's your favourite reward that you offer for backers?
Since the comic is all about heavy metal, I decided to go for metal themed rewards. My favourite is probably the gig tickets and backstage passes. These are souvenir items, but I loved the idea of having something live music related for the fans. And since I’m a guitarist, I personally can’t wait to get hold of the branded plectrums when they are made up.

Recommend someone else's Kickstarter campaign that we should back (and why)?
If it was still running, I’d have suggested the Sliced Quarterly campaign, but that just funded. The new Merrick book by Tom Ward looks good, if you love Mignola-style art and the idea of the Elephant Man as a protagonist! I’ve also heard that Flintlock by Steve Tanner is going to be good, but I’ve yet to properly check it out.

Where else will people be able to see you work in print / online
All my comics work is on my website You can read all the published Rock In Purgatory strips, some samples of Brutal Bombshells, and other projects I have worked on. There’s a gallery showing off some of my other illustration work. There are also links to buy copies of my comics and prints from the site too. I post loads of stuff on Twitter @gojacksongo – I’m always putting up work in progress as I am creating comics and have started doing live streams when I’m drawing pages.

What's next for Rock In Purgatory? Is it a one-off? A continuing story? Ideally, when would you like to release another issue (of RiP or another title)?
I could keep going with Rock In Purgatory for ages, and probably will. I decided to cap it as a first series for now and get a collection out there, but I have loads more ideas for it. I’ve been getting approached by lots of people who want to pitch stories to me for it, or collaborate on a Rock In Purgatory strip. It’s awesome to have people so into this comic that they want to get involved! Actually, my son – who has read some of the less adult and more slapstick RIP strips - came up with a brilliant idea which I have promised him will be included in the next series.

In the meantime, I am working on a new title. My next project is called Heads! and is a sci-fi private detective story. If you like The X-Files, They Live and Dick Tracy you are going to be in for a treat when Heads! comes out. I plan to release it in May as a webcomic with weekly updates. However, I love having things in print, so will likely look to get a run done before the year is out.

How long does a page of art take to produce? Explain a little bit about your approach
The Rock In Purgatory process is fairly time consuming but oddly efficient. As every page is built on a strict nine panel grid, I have created each panel on a sheet of A4 bristol board, before editing them all together. If I lay an entire page out physically, it’s huge! It’s quite satisfying seeing it all jigsawed together on the living room floor at such a scale. The idea behind A4 pages for each panel was that I could carry them around really easily and work on them whenever and wherever I was. So, despite each panel taking quite a while to draw because of the size, it also meant I could get through a few panels a day no matter what I was up to. Colouring took forever – apart from a few plain backgrounds, every panel of every page was coloured by hand.

What other small press titles have you read recently?
I’ve just read The Devil In Disguise by Matt Garvey. Great first issue – so many twists and a great cliff-hanger in such a short space of time! Matt’s stuff is generally great. I’m a big fan of his Chunks books, but this new title really impressed me. I liked El Marvo from Ben Errington and Dan Butcher. Dystopian future with a cryogenically frozen luchador as the hero – obviously going to be good! I’ve also got into the Shaman Kane and Gallo books by David Broughton. His stuff is well written and drawn with such enthusiasm that even if it’s not your cup of tea you can’t help but enjoy it.

Are you expecting to be at any conventions this year? How can people meet you and see RiP for themselves?
My event appearances hinge on the success of the Rock In Purgatory Kickstarter really, as it will be a stretch for me to afford a print run and table fees. I have my eye on Brighton ICE and Nottingham Comic Con right now, and if South London Comic and Zine Fair returns this year I’ll be bothering them for a table. I want to try out some horror conventions too. Popcorn Horror host a horror event in Glasgow each November, so I am hoping to be a part of that this year.

If you like the sound of all of that you can find Rik on Twitter as @gojacksongo

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