There must be a reason why I’m linking to this press release over here about a video game getting the comic treatment. Maybe it’s because Steven O’Connell did the lettering on my very first published comic story (plus his indy film Rock Bottom is pretty fun stuff).

More info on BloodRayne here and news on the upcoming BloodRayne 2 can be found here.

Saturday, April 24th is the international 24-Hour Comics Day with 57 sites around the world playing host to comic creators attempting to create a 24-page comic (penciled, inked, and lettered) in just 24 hours. Austin has two locations hosting the event: Austin Books and Funny Papers. I’ll be participating at the Austin Books location with a lot of other people (over 60 people signed up and a definite 20 people confirmed). If you’re in the Austin area, and you’re curious about how comics get made, this is a good opportunity to see it all take place firsthand. Or come on by and enjoy the 20% discount on graphic novels/trade paperbacks from 11:59pm on Saturday until 7am on Sunday. Heck, come see how a room full of comic creators act after 24 hours with little sleep, lots of caffeine, and brains choked out by Sharpee fumes.

And you can pick up an official Brat-halla t-shirt while you’re there. ^_^

She leaned back against the tree and let the cool forest breeze rush over her. The warmth built up by her long hike into the hills dissipated with the wind’s touch. As she closed her eyes and rested her head back, she felt a sensation in the back of her neck like a small needle. She lurched forward and spun around to look at the tree while she swatted at the back of her neck as if an insect crawled across it. But there was no insect to be found. She examined the tree and couldn’t find anything sharp–a thorn, a stray piece of bark, or even any of those dreaded insects crawling across its surface. She quickly went back to her relaxed position with her back propped against the tree.

Then she felt flush with heat. A sunburn feeling formed just beneath the surface of her face. Her body started to ache, and her muscles began to fatigue. She closed her eyes to rest a second and could feel a fever burning on the backs of her eyelids. Her eyes wanted to stay closed, but her head snapped back and jarred them open as she fought to stay awake…to stay conscious. She reached over to her backpack and pulled out a small canteen. As she twisted the cap to the canteen, she noticed her hands were drenched in sweat and had small bubbles forming under the skin. She watched one of the bubbles grow until the skin split open. The world began to blur and whirl around her as she watched the steam and blood spray out of the wound. As the next bubble started to rip open, the blurred colors of the forest rushed past her until her face slammed into the ground.

Behind her, the bark on the tree shifted into an eerie smile. Arms and hands made of branches reached out for the girl as a long, tuberous tongue licked its lips.

“Practice is the best of all instructors.”

Ahh, very wise words indeed, but there’s more on the back:

“01 05 12 17 28 – 11
02 35 27 35 38. 1 6 8”

I’m currently working on a decoder for this cryptic message because I haven’t been able to find one on eBay. My first crack at decoding it resulted in the phrase, “I have your nose.” I think I need to double-check my notes.

He opened his eyes and found himself surrounded by a crimson fog. He breathed in the fog, and the hairs in his nose curled up as the fiery substance scorched its way down his throat and into his lungs. His mind suddenly raced with a thousand thoughts at once…each one was some little thing he’d suppressed any reaction to in his past. Tiny little thoughts of annoyance, anger, and frustration gathered into an army that hammered into him full charge. He dropped to his knees and covered his mouth and nose with his shirt hoping that would be enough to hold back the fog. He scanned around him looking for a way out when he spotted a hunched over shadow with silver eyes that pierced the crimson veil and fixed their sights on its prey. He stared at those eyes for an eternity, but as he began to blink, the world slowed down around him. With his eyelid halfway down, the creature lunged through the air at him. Then panic set in as the world went black. Then the eyelid rose halfway up, and he could see the creature–a mountain lion with elephant skin and small, shiny obsidian tusks that jutted out of its back like quills. He instinctively leaned back to avoid the creature’s strike, but one of its claws caught hold of his cheek. Then time froze. No movement, no breathing, no heartbeat, no sound–just pain. It shot through him like firecrackers going off in every one of his nerves. Time slowly picked up, but he barely noticed as the claw sent tremors of pain through his entire body with each new cell it cut through. Tears streaked down his cheek as the claw finally left his face. He collapsed to the ground as the creature turned. It went straight for his throat, and he screamed.

He woke with a jolt as every muscle in his body contracted at once. His body arched to the point where most of his backside no longer touched the bed, and then he dropped and bounced on the mattress beneath him. He leaped out of the bed and stumbled his way into the bathroom. He splashed cold water on his face to fight back the growing nausea. He suddenly noticed his heart pounding away like it might explode. He took some slow, deep breaths to calm himself down and looked into the mirror for reassurance that it was just a dream. But, in the mirror, he saw a thick scab along the length of his cheek. His fingers shook as they made their way toward the scab–his sense of touch being his last hope that this wasn’t real. But it was.

The socialites crowded into the parlor jockeying for quality positions in the mingling race. Near the glass doors to the balcony, a solitary figure surveyed the room. He twirled his clove cigarette between his fingers as he took a sip of champagne…his pinky finger hooked skyward. His eyes met the ladies with a subtle wink. He shifted his glance from person to person as the corner of his mouth crept up into a grin. He noticed a prepster dazzling the crowd with his meet-and-greet charm. He watched the man work the room until he finally approached and extended a hand in welcome.

"Hi, I’m Ben Levy."

The man near the doors set down his drink and gripped Ben’s hand. "Shawn. Shawn Tufasey," he said.

"Shawn, right?"

"That’s me. I’m pretty well-known in these parts."

Ben looked over a few more details of Shawn’s face. "Really? So, what do you do?"

Shawn pulled out his wallet and removed a simple business card–the kind you print off a home computer–and handed it over to Ben. "I’m a Comic Book Creator Publicist."

I took a quick glance from my hiding spot. Its teeth glistened in the midday sun and took on a surreal appearance–a madcap grin stretched too far. As I took another peek, I could see its horns rising skyward. There were too many of them, and they were arranged in too odd of a pattern. It was unnatural, but the morbid fascination pulled me out of hiding and drew me closer. At my approach, it let out a banshee wail that raked the length of my spine like dozens of tiny claws. I froze. Didn’t blink. Didn’t breath. Didn’t move. And its cries just grew louder and faster as they fought their way past the fringes of my sanity. Sweat and fear began to blur my vision as a voice called out to me over the cacophony that clashed at my ears.

"Hey kid, it’s just a calliope."

His optic nerve peeled apart to form spider-like legs that creeped their way past the eye to freedom, and then they shoved with all their might to pop the eye free from its socket prison. Fluids within the skull formed a vaccuum that held the eye in place, but the legs reached out further to the nostrils and ear to gain a stronger foothold. Finally, the eye plopped onto the floor and skittered off into the night.

Being good at your craft makes for a good foundation to a career in comics. But good work doesn’t do you any good unless someone sees it. Many creators just sit around waiting for their “big” project to be picked up by Image…or wait around for their break at one of the big two. Why wait? Get some other smaller projects rolling to get your name out there or just start building up an audience for your project. Any work you get out there reveals a lot about you. It’s a little like baring yourself for the world to see, and if it’s good, the exposure will get people excited for more of your work. It’s just good business and marketing. So, why not take a look at people that are the best in the business of exposing themselves? Strippers.

You might be thinking, “What does the business of stripping have to do with comics?” Think about it for a moment…you have people that strip in the privacy of their own homes for their own enjoyment, you have people that strip for others just for the fun of it (often putting their pictures/movies up on the internet), you have people taking on lots of small stripping jobs to earn a modest living (or work their way through school), you have people working their way from smaller clubs to bigger clubs to get noticed and possibly pick up the big paycheck one day with Hollywood. You have the same patterns in comics…and music…and acting. So, let’s look at how strippers “expose” themselves at different levels.

The tease. So, do you think you can walk out on stage naked and be done with it? Well, if you have the perfect body, you might be able to get away with it…but chances are you’ll just lose your chance because they know there are others willing to put a lot more effort into it. A good stripper teases the audience showing a little skin here and a little there. They know how to build up the interest of the audience. They milk every bit of their exposure to capitalize on it. Even strippers with just fair or average (and sometimes worse) bodies can get a crowd excited if they’re exceptionally talented in the art of the tease. And if they’re good at teasing, they have a much better chance of having people toss money their way.

Sure, you could wait for your one project to finally hit the stands, but what if it flubs? What if hardly anyone notices? You’ve just walked out on the stage naked and risked your success on your project being so perfect that everyone will take notice without you putting much effort into it. But why take the chance when you can just build up their interest? Tease them with images, pages, snippets, press releases, a good website, interviews, signings, convention appearances, and more. Work on smaller projects like webcomics, articles, and anthology pieces that reveal a little bit about the quality of your work and get people interested in seeing more. Give people a reason to get excited about you and your projects.

Spice it up. It’s tough to be original in most creative businesses. How many strippers have gone before that strutted out on the stage dressed as cops, firefighters, clowns, business executives, or those friendly and adorable pussycats? If they put in the time and effort, they can still find new ways to twist up those ideas and make them different and intriguing. They might take a basic concept like the cop uniform and bring in a fellow stripper to play the criminal in a mock interrogation/strip search scene. It’s the same basic concept, but it’s a different execution that might make people take notice. They could also bring in props like a fire extinguisher that’s really a fog machine for the firefighter who steps in and out of the fog revealing more and more each time (using the prop to enhance the tease). With tons of other strippers out there, they need to do something to set themselves apart, and it doesn’t have to just be costumes or props. A stripper could go out there with a unique pole routine or an exotic dance or even strip while they sing. They take the execution of the striptease to a new level to make it more involving for the audience…to give them their money’s worth.

Take those ideas and keep twisting to produce a comic that catches people off guard. Mix vastly different ideas together or take an existing idea and execute it in an intriguing fashion. You could take a general premise and spice it up…like showing superheroes from alternative perspectives like Damage Control or Powers. You could show the different sides of superheroes like Hero Happy Hour and Common Grounds. Give the reader a little extra something to grab their attention and make them feel like they’re getting their money’s worth.

Interact. Many strippers like to work the crowd a little before they get on stage to flirt with the patrons and give them something to look forward to. Not only does it help solicit more tips for their stage performance, but they can also pull in extra work doing table dances. If they just sat backstage and waited their turn, they’d miss out on that. Plus, getting cozy helps develop regulars that will keep their act successful even during hard times. Then there’s also the fact that those regulars would talk about them to their friends. If word of mouth spreads, more and more people could start showing up for their shows. If they get a big enough following, a bigger club might make them an offer hoping to secure those crowds…or an agent might see some potential and “make some calls.”

Taking the time to talk with your potential audience can have a great impact on the outcome. Make friends and develop a network of people that like you and your work enough to champion it to the masses. Respond to letters and emails, chat with them about their favorite parts of your comics, and make them feel like a part of the experience. And remember to not just focus on bringing in new readers…you also need to work at building and keeping the interest of regulars that will check out your work time-and-again.


If you’ve worked on your skills, and you honestly feel you’re ready to take the plunge into the world of comics, then go ahead…expose yourself. You know you want to. If you know your project will take a while to get rolling, start building up an audience. Do a webcomic based on the characters or a webcomic that shows the quality you and your collaborators are capable of. Work on some articles for some websites…artists can give tips on drawing, coloring and inking…writers can give tips on writing (or tips on dealing with frustration, rejection, and feeling like you’re invisible). Build a website to promote different aspects of the project–concept artwork, short stories about the characters, news about the project and creators, and other fun stuff. Get out there and tease the world with what you have to offer and get them excited for more.

Unless you’re independently wealthy, the beneficiary of multiple high-profile gigs, or living way, way below your means, you probably have to contend with the hardship of that necessary evil…the day job. Part-time, full-time, any time…it’s a disruption to your dreams and goals. All day long you look forward to the drive home and stepping into your home so you can…go right back to work on those comics. Okay, so maybe you’ll take a moment to cook up some ramen and catch some of the news while you’re slurping down noodles. Maybe you’ll put on a good non-thinking DVD with lots of action and cool effects to help obliterate all thoughts of work from your poor frazzled mind. Wow, that hit the spot. I wonder if the sequel’s out on DVD yet. After a quick search on the internet, you’re out the door to Wal-mart to add that precious DVD to your monstrous collection.

Doesn’t take much to sidetrack you from working on that second job, does it? By the time you realize that you need to get stuff done, it could be late at night, and you’ll stay up even later to get as much done as you can. You wind up not getting much sleep, and you start that day job tomorrow a little weary. It makes the day drag on, leads to mistakes and loss of productivity that increases your workload, and puts you in a position where anything remotely resembling work is the furthest thought from your mind by the time you get home. You’re just too burnt out to “work” on your dreams. And it’s a pattern that keeps getting worse…unless you do something about it.

Break the cycle. The nasty thing about those vicious repeating cycles is that they never seem to end. They just go on and on like some kind of endless pit of frustration. And if you keep at it long enough, it’ll become habit. If this is you, stop. Immediately. Break the cycle now. Take some time off to just relax. Not just a day, or even just two. Take at least three days to just indulge yourself. Watch movies, play games, read some books, go on a nature hike. Do whatever it takes to relax and give your fried husk of a brain the chance to recover. Don’t think about any kind of work…no day job…no comics…nothing but entertainment and fun. But before you take that break, you’ll need to do one little thing.

Work out a schedule. Given: the day job’s gonna grind you down. Given: your mind will need a little time to relax from work. Given: creating comics IS work (fun work, but it does take a lot of effort). Given: you need a certain amount of sleep to be productive…in your job and in comics. Now, take all of these factors into account when you develop your comic working schedule.

How much sleep do you need at night to feel rested and ready to take on the world? If you’re not sure, use your days off to find out. What time do you need to get up in the morning to make it to work on time? Use this as your baseline and find out when you need to go to bed to get the right amount of sleep at night. But you can’t just call it quits right at bedtime and expect to fall asleep immediately. Give yourself an hour to unwind from your comic creator persona. This gives you a buffer, so if you happen to run a little long with your comic work or get hyper-focused on a particular project, you’ll be able to handle it without running into your sleep time. Continuing with this backwards-stepping approach, figure out how much time you can dedicate to comic work each night while still leaving yourself some time to cool down from regular work.

But no schedule is completely foolproof, so take an extra precautionary measure to make sure you don’t jump back into that dreadful burn-out cycle.

Schedule time off. Give yourself permission to goof off one day every week. Plan a night out with some friends, go to the movies, veg out with popcorn and movies, go shopping, or take care of any number of things to take your mind away from work and let it unwind. In a single day, you should be able fit enough recreational activities to sate your “goofing off” fix for the week. By working it into your schedule, it gives you a psychological advantage over slacking off all week long. You’ll have an easier time getting to work on comics all those other days because you know you have an entire day coming up soon where you won’t have to deal with any kind of work.

Know how to plan your projects. So, now you have a schedule you can work with to preempt the burnout phase…but you still have to integrate that with your project planning. With a set schedule, you know how much time you can put into creating comics each week. But how long will a project take you? How do you schedule your projects so you aren’t overloaded with work and wind up right back in that dreaded cycle? How much time do you need to do research on a project (gather facts/data or find reference material)? Once you’re prepared, how long does it take you to get through writing/drawing/inking/coloring/lettering an average page? What factors might cause that page to go slower or quicker? If you’re not sure, take a couple weeks to time yourself and find out. Since you have a new schedule where you work a set number of hours at a time, just keep a record of how many pages you complete each day.

After a couple weeks, calculate an average of how long it takes you to complete a page. If you have any time that took longer than your average, go through the pages from that time and find out why. Did you require extra research or references? Did it have heavy amounts of dialogue, backgrounds, or details? Do the same for any pages that finished up faster than the average and take into account these factors that can impact your schedule.


And yes, everyone’s different. Some people are workhorses that can just come home and have no problems jumping right into their comic work. A lot of people working the small press route also tend to run with really loose deadlines, and they just get projects done at whatever pace is comfortable or convenient for them. But once they get a solid deadline on a project that could be their big break, there’s a chance those lax ways could get the better of them and lead them to frustration and dwindling productivity. If you feel frustration getting to you or feel yourself struggling with stuff that came easily a few weeks ago, step back for a moment and take an honest look at yourself…are you burning out?

If so, don’t let it get worse. Do something about it. Develop a plan that works for you if you have to. The above steps work for me whenever I start collapsing into a burnout phase, and they’ve worked for some friends of mine. If all else fails, give them a shot because at least you’ll be doing something to keep those dreams alive.