Creating and self-publishing your own comic book is one of the most difficult things you can do as a creative individual. Writing. Drawing. Inking. Lettering. And, if you choose to go this route, colouring, not to mention the trials of publishing, distributing and promoting the comic book yourself. Everything needs to be organized by you.
If you’re lucky, you’ve got a group of talented friends around you who can help out with each of those developmental stages. And sometimes you are talented enough to see each of those stages through yourself.
Elaine Will is such an auteur.
Based out of Saskatoon, Elaine is an artist and writer who works in a number of mediums. This includes an ongoing comic strip for a local paper and self-publishing her own comic books. Specifically, the series Look Straight Ahead.
It’s the story of a young man named Jeremy in a city that looks at a lot like Saskatoon but is not officially named as Saskatoon. He suffers from two distinct and devastating maladies; manic depression and high school. He’s plagued by visions of altered reality that can be hard to differentiate from the actual reality he has to deal with.
Look Straight Ahead is a brilliant journey through the upended world of a young man trying to find some semblance of normalcy, if that’s even possible. And like most brilliant stories, this story takes its roots in the author’s life.
Like many comic book fans, Elaine’s love of the medium started at a young age but she was inspired to follow it as a career when Captain Carrot’s Scott Shaw started drawing Sonic the Hedgehog for Archie Comics. While she started drawing at the age of five, her first self-published comic came out in 2002. Titled New Edge, Elaine describes it as a Mad Max-esque story about a fictional punk rock band made up of anthropomorphic animals.
Fuelled by the struggles in her personal life at the time, also in 2002, Elaine created the concept for Look Straight Ahead. But using pieces of your own life in a fictionalized story can be awkward and difficult, depending on the subject matter. Elaine was able to create a comfortable storytelling distance from any real events used in the story by making the lead character male. She then set upon developing and self-publishing the book, which is no small feat.
Choosing this route is problematic at best, maddening at its worst, but also rewarding and fulfilling. Whether you publish online or in meat space, your successes are your own and on your terms. It ensures that the creator has full control over the development of the book, something that is often lost when working with a publisher. Even a smaller press.
Publishing online is increasingly becoming the best way to reach your audience and make inroads with publishers who might not otherwise take notice. Take the Spectator Tribune as a case in point. Elaine publishes Look Straight Ahead as physical comic books and she is publishing it as a full graphic novel as well as online. The online approach does negate the expense of publishing while giving the creator a wider reach and still maintaining the all-important creative control. And with a deeply personal story like Look Straight Ahead, full creative control is necessary to make sure the story gets told correctly.
This was the correct choice. The quality of Elaine’s storytelling is evident in the recognition she very quickly received once Look Straight Ahead started coming out online and in physical form.
After two issues of Look Straight Ahead had come out, Elaine was nominated for the Gene Day Award for Self-Published Comics at the 2011 Joe Shuster Awards. The Gene Day Award honours independent Canadian comic book creators who self-published and did not use third party distributor. And in 2012 she was one of the final recipients of a Xeric Foundation Comic Book Self-Publishing Grant. The Xeric was developed by Peter Laird, co-creator of one of the most successful and enduring independent comic book properties of all time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Beyond awards, Elaine has received an exceptional response from her readers. She has made a connection with those who have experienced similar issues in their lives and they have reached out back to her, online as well as meeting her in person at conventions like the Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle. Jeremy’s story resonates with its readers, offering an outlet of expression for their own trials. Elaine has said that if she could help even one person with this comic, she’s done her job.
She’s achieved that goal in spades.
When I wrote the first draft of this piece, I found myself looking for a way to end it. Just leaving it at a published volume containing all seven issues in one graphic novel was on the way didn’t quite seem enough. Fortunately, life always offers up its own twists if you give it a chance.
Elaine recently announced that Alternative Comics, a publisher based out of Cupertino, California, will distribute the collected graphic novel version of Look Straight Ahead. This will increase the exposure Elaine’s work receives and will hopefully propel her career burgeoning career further. And with new projects on the go, any exposure is always a good thing.
This is the kind of ending a story like this should have. Elaine’s story is one of a tenacious, talented creator who followed her own vision. While Elaine’s career is still growing, the Look Straight Ahead chapter is coming to an auspicious end as she moves towards other projects. Getting a distribution deal that helps her self-published work find new readers without compromising the work is a fitting bit of closure? It’s the kind of ending any auteur should be proud of.