Michael Brennan was a sad example of how you can do everything right in comics and still not see success. Michael created a great comic that was well drawn, had likable characters and heart. He marketed it well, published it in affordable collections, created merchandise etc.. Eventually a Graphic Novel publisher AiT/PlanetLar took a crack at selling it and I don’t believe they did any better.
Unfortunately there wasn’t much of a market for comics aimed at young female readers at the time. I think if Electric Girl came out today though an established bookstore publisher it would do very well. There are 3 volumes out there that you can buy for cheap on Amazon now. I think Michael does a mix of fine art and design work now.
An Interview With Michael Brennan
If you have been visiting Comiccon.com or Sequential Tarts website you might have noticed an Electric Girl banner. I recently got an Electric Girl TPB collecting the first 4 issues of the series plus some new stories. I loved it and decided to interview the creator Michael Brennan about Electric Girl and self publishing in general.
Jamie: I understand you tried to become a comic strip cartoonist before turning to comic books. Can you tell us about your strip attempts?
Michael Brennan: It was back in 1990. I had just reached that point where I realized that if I wanted to be a cartoonist, I’d actually have to do something about it.
I had read Marvel & DC comic books since I was a kid, but had fallen away from them after college. I had decided that the only alternative was to do a comic strip. Bill Watterson’s work in “Calvin and Hobbes” was a big influence on me to try this. I felt that he pushed the comic strip back to a higher ground in terms of art and writing that hadn’t been around for some time. That was my inspiration to try and do a strip.
The strip contained the main characters of the Electric Girl book, Virginia, Oogleeoog the gremlin and Blammo the dog. The main difference was that Virginia didn’t have any of the electricity that she has in the book. The premise was based on Oogleeoog coming in and making trouble in her family’s life.
I did about one month’s worth of strips. But, I didn’t like them when I sat down and reviewed them, so I redid them. I then sent them out to the syndicates. Months later, I received rejection letters from all of them!
Jamie: Ever think about following Chris Eliopoulos (Desperate Times) and doing a comic strip but in a comic book format?
Michael Brennan: No. I was never happy about my ability to do the “gag a day” that humor-based comic strips require. And trying to lay a continuing story line over that seemed even harder.
When I decided to do a comic book, I wanted to have the freedom of using the full page to tell the story and not be limited to the strip format. Not that I’m big into experimental page layouts, but since I wasn’t satisfied with my strip attempt I wanted to try something different.
My decision was also based on new influences at that time. I was reading a lot of alternative comic books and European comic books. I was attracted to how these cartoonists created their own distinct worlds for their characters to live in and interact. These worlds might have been very different from the real world or just slightly askew, but the individual nature of their work just stood out to me like nothing I’d ever considered before.
Jamie: Which titles were you reading? And how would you say they influenced Electric Girl?
Michael Brennan: I had started reading the Drawn & Quarterly anthology books, as well as Palookaville by Seth. What captured my eye was the distinct visual styles that these works were done in. It was the idea that you could actually draw a book in a manner that was so different from the standard stuff that really got me thinking. Because of the D&Q books I began to look for stuff by cartoonists like Maurice Vellekoop and Dupuy & Berberian.
I find that works done by cartoonists like these have been thought out in a way that mainstream stuff isn’t. Their individual style plays so much into the stories that you wouldn’t expect anyone else to be drawing the characters that they’ve created.
Jamie: Electric Girl doesn’t look like the normal superhero comic, I have a hard time saying it is one. But your stories seem to veer off towards the supernatural. Are you trying to get superhero fans to read it by doing this?
Michael Brennan: Personally, I consider Electric Girl to be a humor based book. When I decided to add the “Electric Girl” aspect over my original concept, it was to include something that I could play with beyond the “gremlin” angle. In hindsight, I think that part of my attraction to the idea was that it wasn’t too far from what I had read for many years – superhero comics. It was a sort of a case of doing what you know… or at least using it as a starting point.
Most people who have read the book get that Virginia isn’t a superhero, but I did create a bit of a paradox with the book’s name. I guess that I saw myself creating a style to the book that would be visually self-explanatory to anyone who picked it up. But I can understand how anyone who’s never picked the book up might be confused at first!
Jamie: You write the main character Virginia very well. Is she inspired by a real life person?
Michael Brennan: Virginia is an amalgam of aspects of myself and several women I know. I’ve built all my main characters this way.
Jamie: I wonder, are Gremlins responsible for all the bad things that happen in the whole world in Electric Girl Comics?
Michael Brennan: No, but gremlins are more than happy to take credit for problems that humans create entirely on their own.
Michael Brennan: I do most everything in the book. I’ve gotten help designing things like the inside cover in some issues because of time constraints. I do everything within the stories myself because I don’t break the different tasks up in a neat order. For example, while I might write a complete script before I start drawing, the odds are that I will change the story halfway through the pencils. I’ll also finesse the dialogue as I’m lettering the book.
I gave up on the web site and had a programmer execute my page designs. As much as I wanted to dive into full web page programming, it wasn’t an efficient use of my time. I can manipulate things enough to do some of the updates to the site, but I let the programmer handle the major things. It keeps things running smoothly.
Jamie: How long do you plan on keeping Electric Girl running?
Michael Brennan: As you might be able to tell from my previous answers, as long as I can afford the time to do it. This year, I want to get two issues out, at least. That will put me in line to do a second trade paperback (encompassing EG #5 – #8) early next year.
Jamie: How has Electric Girl done for you sale wise?
Michael Brennan: Considering that I was a non-entity within this industry when I started publishing, sales have been good. My biggest problem is finding the time to MARKET the book. It’s amazing what can happen when you’re out there selling the thing.
Jamie: If you could afford to do Electric Girl in color would you?
Michael Brennan: Yes, but not all the time. I would want to color the book myself and that would take up a lot of time. I’m hoping to include at least several color pages in a future issue of the book.
Jamie: You have also been advertising with a banner on at least a couple of comic book websites. Has Internet advertising brought in enough customers to justify it?
Michael Brennan: It has increased the site’s visibility and brought in additional sales, which is the immediate goal. So in that sense, it has justified itself. Ultimately, I need to produce new books and sustain a consistent marketing plan in order for any advertising to truly pay off. That’s quite a trick to do when you’re also publishing your own book.
Jamie: I noticed Electric Girl was in the Expo 2000 anthology. How did that all happen and did anything come from it?
Michael Brennan: I emailed the coordinators of the book a request to include a story in their anthology and they accepted. I believe that I’ve picked up a few readers as a result of being in the 2000 book.
Jamie: I notice your selling Electric Girl Merchandise on your website, how does that help with the publishing?
Michael Brennan: It helps by raising money to help pay for the publishing operations. Some people who’ve worn Blammo t-shirts have told me that they get a lot of favorable comments about them, even from strangers on the street. It also helps to fill out a table at a convention.
Jamie: How important are conventions to a self publisher?
Michael Brennan: Very important. I still sell as many of the first issue of EG as anything else. There are a lot of people who’ve never seen the book and there are others who can’t find the book except at conventions that I attend. I’m trying to do at least one convention in a different part of the country each year to expose more people to my work.
Jamie: Have you sold any of your original art?
Michael Brennan: No. I’ve got it all stuffed away in boxes in my studio. No one’s approached me about buying it and I’ve never gotten around trying to sell it.
Jamie: Was there anyone in particular that inspired or helped you out when you began self publishing?
Michael Brennan: I read through Dave Sim’s “Guide to Self Publishing”. It answered a lot of the questions that I couldn’t find answers for elsewhere. That reinforced the idea, in my mind, that this could be done by a one person shop. I had also recently discovered Jeff Smith’s “Bone” comic book and was amazed at the great looking art in the book, as well as the tight storytelling that was running over multiple issues and not losing its pacing.
Jamie: Did self publishing go the way Dave Sim’s book said it would?
Michael Brennan: Not completely. And that is primarily because I chose not to do a book with a continuing storyline. That was a point that Dave had hammered home in the book – if you’re going to do a multi-part story, be ready to make it happen in a timely manner. What reading that book made me do is really think if I want to get involved with self-publishing and was if I was willing to stick around for a while and see it through.
Jamie: What kind of conflicts do you come up against because of self publishing?
Michael Brennan: Schedule conflicts. Big time. That’s the number one problem I’m always facing. Because I can’t afford to do it full time, so I’m constantly juggling projects to make time for the book.
Jamie: Some small publishers complain about Diamond Distribution when it comes to giving their book some promotion. How have your dealings with Diamond gone?
Michael Brennan: I’ve had a good relationship with Diamond. They’ve been supportive of my book and I’ve done everything within my means to promote the book when it’s in the Previews catalog. With all of the books that get listed every month, it’s important to try to stand out as much as possible.
Jamie: Has it been difficult to get comic retailers to gamble on your book and give it some shelf space?
Michael Brennan: The shops that carry my books tend to be the ones that make an effort to carry independent comics, as far as I can tell. It’s a tough challenge to get a shop that doesn’t cater to tastes beyond the mainstream to take a chance on an independent book.
Jamie: Have you branched outside of the comics industry to find readers?
Michael Brennan: I’m just starting to experiment with that now that I’ve published a trade paperback. I’ve signed up with a book promotion firm to generate sales of the TPB in bookstore chains. I’m hoping that this will lead to significant results.
Jamie: If Marvel or DC offered you one of their superhero books to draw would you take it?
Michael Brennan: The only character that I’d have any interest in drawing, or could imagine myself drawing, is the original Captain Marvel (Shazam). Mainly because I started enjoying comics when I was reading the DC reprints of the old CC Beck stories when I was a kid. I thought those were the greatest things on earth.
Readers can find out more about Electric Girl at:
http://www.ElectricGirl.com [this is now a dead link]