There’s a lot of talk in the industry about getting more kids to read comics, but not a lot of solutions. Well, the creative team of Justin Zimmerman (The Killing Jar, Safe) and Mike Lawrence (Muddy Max, Star Scouts) has stepped up to do something quite unique with their new project on Kickstarter, Other Worlds: Fer Kidz.
Other Worlds is the name of a sci-fi/fantasy anthology created by Justin, on which Mike was the lead (and cover) artist. The original 188-page collection came out in 2013, and even though it did have some fun, all-ages adventures, other stories were rather dark and graphic in nature, making the whole book inappropriate for young readers.
This is an issue Justin sought to remedy by putting together a compendium issue just for kids. And not only is the content perfect for young readers, but he’s using the campaign to get these comics directly into the hands of kids who need them the most by donating extra copies to his local Food Pantry.
With their Kickstarter campaign already funded in just three days (but still plenty of time of new backers to get on board), I spoke to Justin about his mission to create better comics for kids and how to work together as a community to serve those most in need.
BROKEN FRONTIER: Other Worlds is the name of an anthology project you’ve been publishing for a few years now, including two previous Kickstarter campaigns. What can you tells up about the overall scope of Other Worlds, and why the need for a specific version “fer kidz”?
JUSTIN ZIMMERMAN: Somewhere about five years ago now, in the midst of creating my 240-page behemoth The Killing Jar with artist Russ Brown, I decided to start putting out short genre comic stories. There is zero market for that, so I decided to self-publish.
As I’m a filmmaker by trade, and as comics are a kind of super-hobby for me, the idea of Other Worlds as a piecemeal, issue-by-issue experiment with tons of different artists and individual storylines was more exciting than terrifying. And writing to a variety of incredible independent artists’ strengths made me a better writer from the first page.
Kickstarter helped me publish my first three issues as a graphic novel and then, later, an entire 188-page super-collection. As I paid my artists for every page of their work, I doubt I would have been able to print locally and make sustainable books otherwise. At this point, my entire catalog is available on ComiXology through A Wave Blue World here.
Mike Lawrence was the lead artist on the previous Other Worlds anthologies, as well as the cover artist. He’s drawing all three of the stories in this one. What is it about Mike and his work that makes you so eager to continue collaborating with him?
I went back through my old emails and I started working with Mike in September of 2010. Since then he’s illustrated countless pages of art for me, and I’ve hired him for logos, commercial animation projects and commission gifts galore. The simple fact is… I’m a fan.
He ranks amongst the best artistic partners I’ve ever has in the multimedia world, and I’ve worked with some greats. Watercolor, charcoal, inks and digital, the dude has a mastery of multiple forms, yet has his own distinct style to boot. He’s also got this perpetually cute Michael J. Fox thing going on, so you kind of want to hug him, but this curmudgeonly thing going on, so if you try to hug him you might lose a finger or two. All of these things I like and respect.
He’s got brand new books on the way from First Second (Star Scouts), so he asked me to take his artist photos. It was neat for me as I was finally able to create something for him that wasn’t written on the page, if that makes sense. His wife held the reflector and his kids were running everywhere. It was perfect. My wife and I are lucky to count Mike and his family as friends. Check him out here and see if what I’m saying about the Michael J. Fox thing is wrong – and don’t forget to soak in his amazing work!
I originally wanted Mike to color every page of Other Worlds: Fer Kidz, but life got in the way. So James Ratcliffe stepped in to color one story and Kevin Dryad sauntered up to the plate to create 3D designs for backmatter and lobby cards. Some of Mike’s original pencils and tones remain too, which are amazing in their own right. I’m really psyched about this book!
One of the amazing things about the campaign is that you’ll be printing extra copies to deliver to children in need through your local Northeast Emergency Food Program Library. What can you tell us about that organization and the services they provide?
Being a filmmaker means I get to be in the field quite a bit. Active. Responsive. But it also means I’m spending long stretches of time in front of various screen interfaces. I decided to remedy this by volunteering at the Northeast Emergency Food Program (NEFP) this year. A lot of my personal film work involves socially oriented topics, so actively working to help alleviate hunger is a pretty cool way to spend some free time.
The NEFP has helped feed one of every 53 Portlanders since its inception. Well, when the folks at the NEFP said they were starting a lending and giving library, I couldn’t imagine it without comics for the thousands of kids who visit the NEFP on a regular basis. So I started working with Excalibur Comics and Cosmic Monkey to get superheroes to the kids that need them most. And once I decided to get Other Worlds: Fer Kidz off the ground, I couldn’t imagine not donating hundreds of copies as well.
What is it about comics that make them such a source of inspiration for children – or anyone trying to make it through a difficult time?
I remember finding an original graphic novel of Wendy and Richard Pini’s Elfquest in the sci-fi section of my local library as a kid. It’s no exaggeration to say that it – and books like it – got me through some tough years of my young life.
Comics are the intersection of words and pictures. They require a physical and emotional investment on our parts to make the story work. The panels connect. The words ring in our minds. And we bridge the gap of form and function and are participants in the story. This is an active process.
And when comics are created by the best of the best, like Richard and Wendy Pini, they transport you to… well, other worlds. And those worlds can sometimes be of great help.
I asked Mike about this just today and he said that he draws for his inner eight-year-old, especially now that he’s a dad. His innate ability to channel the wonders of the imagination is one of his great strengths. With literally thousands of pages of comics and storyboards under my belt, this is the first truly all-ages product in my repertoire. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long, but I’m truly happy it’s happening.
Another aspect of this campaign that I know is close to your heart is your commitment to printing this locally. You’re working with a printer just down the street from you, StevensIS. Why do you feel it’s so important to print locally, and what advantages does it have for the final product and for your backers?
I am an experiential learner, and part of the wonder of comics is making them. Like, actually creating the paper products.
StevensIS is not only helping me create an amazing and unique book, but they’re working with me to make sure it’s as good as it can be on the page, and that quality comes through in every one of my products. And they’re also making sure as many of these things get to kids in the community as possible.
What we’re trying to do here would not be possible – in either quality or quantity – without the help of a press like StevensIS.
Just for fun, if you had the opportunity to write any sci-fi property (not your own), what would it be?
Everyone who knows me knows of my deep and abiding love of Robocop – a property that I feel has never been correctly written in the comic realm. But to be honest, I wish I could continue to world that Mike and I created in the third story of the book, Peter Quick. I have such plans for the characters and Mike’s never created more beautiful pages. But if this is it, I’m so happy he finally gets to take form in Other Worlds: Fer Kidz.