Interview: Walter Ostlie on Shiver Bureau
By Gabe Ostley and James Johnson
Cartoonist Walter Ostlie has a Kickstarter running to publish a collected edition of this webcomic : Shiver Bureau. He took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his art, book and Kickstarter campaign. Read on to find out more.
1. How did you get into comics?
I used to read comics a bunch in high school. It was mostly Image stuff. I thought Image was super awesome. I was also really into Johnny The Homicidal Maniac (JTHM). So much so, me and a friend tried to do our own comic similar to JTHM. He drew it and I wrote. I didn’t really think of myself as an artist back then, I still don’t really. So we got one page in. That was pretty much it for me and comics for 15 years. After that I was a singer in a band, we broke up, so I started writing screenplays. I tried to shoot my own indie movie and that was a lot of work. So much work for just like 5 minutes of footage. But it was at that time I discovered storyboards. I did them all using the crude drawing knowledge I had from copying WildC.A.T.S back in the day. That rekindled my love of comics. I started to teach myself to draw and here we are 8 years later…give or take
2. Why don’t you consider yourself an artist?
I want to tell a story first, art is part of the vehicle. I think about some of the artists out there and the amount of draftsmanship they put into their work, it blows my mind. I feel like such a hack compared to them. As I learn more, I feel like I am worthy of that title more. However, when I was in high school, copying Image comics, I never thought I would be drawing anything.
3. Who do you consider your influences?
Clue, Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes for storytelling and characters. Artistic influences: Jhonen Vasquez, Ben Templesmith, Skottie Young, Matteo Scalera, Sean Murphy, Dan Mora… it changes a lot. I just really love it when people embrace their own thing. But I still have a special place in my heart for Jim Lee.
4. Tell me about Shiver Bureau.
Shiver Bureau is a mix of action, comedy, mystery and spookiness. I like to think it is a mixture of Sherlock Holmes, Ghostbusters, and Scooby-Doo. The world is overrun with ghosts, the only people who can keep the ghosts under control is the Shiver Bureau. The only problem is that the bureau is corrupt and there are rumors of things far worse than the ghosts lurking in the dark. That’s where the heroes of the story show up and it’s their job to fix everything. If that is not enough to sell you on it, then how about this; one of the main character’s name is Pickle, he has green hair, green eyes, and a huge nose. Sold? Thought so.
5. Tell me about your experience in web comics.
As soon as I started learning to draw I needed a way to practice. Webcomics seemed like the best way to do it and also build up a fanbase. I started off with a gag-a-day strip called Cubicles. Which was a sci-fi comedy, Office Space meets Spaceballs. I turned that webcomic into a longform story which became my first graphic novel. Which you can pick up on Comixology… wink wink. After that I started working on Shiver Bureau. It just made sense to put it up as a webcomic.
6. What has been most the most rewarding part of doing a webcomic?
Some days I get a comment from a reader. They tell me that they love the art, love the story or even just pick up on this little subtle line. It’s stuff like that gives me more fuel to keep going. People get to read your work even if they can’t make it to a comic book store or afford to pay for it, but I can still bring a little entertainment to their lives. That’s awesome.
7. What has been the most difficult?
Maintaining the website and keeping up with social media. Building up a fan base. That takes a lot of work, it’s like a garden. You have to keep working it until you can harvest anything. So a lot of times it feels fruitless. I was also finishing Shiver Bureau pages the day before I posted the page. That was horrible. So I went on hiatus to completely finish the book before posting again. I lost a lot of my social momentum at that point. The internet is a fickle mistress.
8. Is this your first experience with Kickstarter?
This is my second. My first was with Cubicles, but that was almost 8 years ago. Kickstarter is a different beast, so I almost feel like it is my first project.
9. What has it been like working with Kickstarter to get your book funded?
Technically it is super awesome. It is super easy to toss up your project and you’re off to the races. Of course emotionally it is a completely different story. I am constantly checking my email looking for new backers and if I go an hour without a new backer it feels like I haven’t gotten a backer in a month. It is pretty stressful. Kickstarter is the most amazing thing there is out there for self publishing and I love the fact that it exists. But I don’t want to downplay the amount of work that is involved in a successful project. Shooting the video is tough also. I felt so silly recording that.
10. How do you handle advertising for your Kickstarter project?
Right now I am going on word of mouth. Hopefully I’ve built up some street cred with the webcomic and social media. So I am posting there about the Kick[starter]. I try to make sure I am also posting art or something interesting so I am not just screaming KICKSTARTER at the top of my lungs. I toss up some adventure time fan art and say “oh, by the way, look at my Kickstarter.” I did boost my Facebook post about the KICK[STARTER], I can’t really tell if it is doing much. My big hope is that people will really like Shiver Bureau and mention it to their friends.
11. Are there any particularly effective sites you advertise on that you could recommend?
Get a lot of social media friends and build up a presence. That is what will really do the most for you. When people know you, they are more likely to help you. For actually advertising, Project Wonderful is one of the easiest to get started on. It is also pretty easy to boost a Facebook post. The other option besides Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr is to make yourself a presence on a forum dedicated to comics. Penciljack, Digital webbing come to mind for that.
12. Describe your typical day during the campaign.
Check my email, check my email, think of something clever to say, draw a picture to post, check my email, check my email, pull out my hair, eat something finally… oh did I mention the coffee? There is the podcast (Funding the Dream. –Ed.) that is all about Kickstarters that my friend turned me onto. It focuses on table-top gaming Kickstarters, but it can apply across the board. So I’ve started listening to that hoping for some granules of knowledge I can use.
13. How often do you tweet? What do you tweet?
I think once or twice a day for tweets or Facebook is good. Unless you really have something good. Even with only posting twice, I try to make sure there is something of value on that post. So I’ve been drawing a lot the last week.
14. Where do you get your printing (books) and manufacturing done (t-shirts)?
I think I am going to use Print Ninja for the books. For the shirts I am going local, using these cool cats: The Fine Print.
15. Do you think Kickstarter hinders or enhances your chances with publishers?
I don’t think publishers care too much. If anything, if you make a lot of noise on Kickstarter they are more likely to want to publish you. It proves you have a valid product.
16. What are some of the rewards you have lined up for backers? How did you decide on your rewards, and how did you come to the price point for those rewards?
You just have to pick out the rewards you want to do and then just research creating them. I went really simple for mine. I just have the book, a bookmark and a shirt. Get price quotes for each item. Add the shipping costs to those items and a little bit of wriggle room and bam, you got your reward price. Bookmarks and shirts will be easy, because I can ship them with the book. But the original art I am selling is bigger than the book, so I have to add more shipping to those items. When you research creating an item you will figure out what the minimum order is. So for shirts the min order is 24 shirts, that will cost $400 bucks. Do the same thing for the books, $6000 for the books. Make sure those prices include the cost to ship them to your door. That puts you at 6400 bucks. Now look at other kickstarters and see how many backers it takes to get to $8000-iish. I think it is around 200 backers. How much will it cost to buy shipping materials and ship to 200 people. Say it is around $10 per person, that’s another $2k. So you are at a goal of $8400. Then figure out the Kickstarter and transfer fees, which is around 10%. So that brings it to $9500-ish. Add some incidentals and something like that will get you in the ballpark.
17. Any tips for people getting started in webcomics?
Just do it, don’t overthink. Build up a buffer before you post, have like 3 months worth of buffer. Have a good amount of pages already posted before you tell anyone to check out your site. The worse thing is going to a webcomic site and there’s nothing to look at, I feel like I wasted my time. Don’t be afraid to tell people about your comic.
18. What do you think the future of comic books will be?
I really hope we get more creator owned stories, bigger stories, more personal stories. I hope it becomes more diverse and more inclusive. I want there to be more readers. Comics should be a mainstay of popular culture. They are so powerful, I don’t understand why more people don’t like them.
19. How important are digital platforms like Comixology to you as a comic maker?
Indie creators have to use every platform they can and the more platforms there are, the more empowered creators will become. I am going to get Shiver Bureau on Comixology once the Kick[starter] is over.
20. Would you recommend aspiring comic artists to get more digital software (Manga Studio, Cintiq tablets)?
Aspiring artists should start off with a piece of scratch paper and a whatever can make marks on that piece of paper. I think it is important to learn at the start that the art isn’t precious. Make horrible drawings that you could just throw in the trash. The less you care about how bad you are, the quicker you will get awesome. Digital stuff can get pricey, so no need to spend the money. All the technical stuff will just get in the way of learning to draw. I do think once you reach a point of skill where you feel okay drawing, you can start learning a digital workflow. You have to know computers, the world is too digital not to know how.
21. Do you think there will be a time when traditional methods of creating comics will be obsolete? (paper, pen & scanners)
Nah. Digital is just a new medium. Acrylics didn’t kill oils, pens didn’t kill pencils. Its all about what suits the artist and job at hand. I just love getting down and dirty with ink, I don’t think I would ever stop that completely.
22. When Shiver Bureau is made into a movie, who will be your cast and director? And can we visit the set? 😀
Hah. Will they even let me on the set? Maybe Guy Ritchie or James Gunn for the director. I don’t know who could pull off Pickle…how would they even do his nose? There isn’t enough CGI in the world to figure that out. Maybe Jude Law. Charlize Theron could be an awesome Trish. The Rock for Mr. Todd. This is hard, I’m not a C.S.A!
23. What’s next after the Shiver Bureau book comes out?
Shiver Bureau Part Deux! Hah. I would love to do some other stories also, stand alone graphic novels. But I also want to finish Shiver Bureau. There are two or three more volumes left to finish the story. There isn’t enough time in my life.
If you enjoyed this interview please be sure to check out Shiver Bureau and consider backing the Kickstarter campaign. It closes on September 22, 2015 and as of this writing (9/1/2015) it is a little more than half-way funded.
Images © 2015 Walter Ostlie. Used with permission from the artist.