Interview by Max Delgado
Here’s the first thing you need to know about Farlaine the Goblin: the creator is anonymous.
No joke -- I have no idea who this person is. But in an industry where folks sometimes take credit for work they didn’t do, and where gratuitous self-promotion is expected, this anonymous approach feels truly counter-cultural.
Second, the premier issue of this book is a delight; as readers we’re introduced to a spectacularly imaginative world where a tree goblin wields powers similar to Swamp Thing, navigates kingdoms reminiscent of Willingham’s Fables, and encounters villains you’d expect to find a few paces off the yellow brick road. This is all to say that Farlaine the Goblin is marketed accurately: this is a fairy tale. And a well crafted one.
Here’s the premise: Farlaine is a tree goblin from the Forest of Fin-Din, and he’s looking for a home. We catch him near the end of his journey, after he’s spent years searching through hundreds of lands that aren’t quite right. With only 10 lands left to explore, the premier issue already has a sense of urgency, which propels the story nicely. Best, Farlaine’s abilities are revealed only when the story dictates, and only in ways that advance the story, which is how it should be. And the story is compelling: a goblin looking for a home, and with few options left.
Issue #1 goes on sale on September 4, 2013, and kicks-off a seven issue arc that will be published as a larger-than-average glossy. In anticipation of Farlaine’s launch, LBP asked the anonymous creator to share a little bit about this title’s long journey towards self-publication.
And, in true LBP style, we also wanted to hear about three books in his personal collection -- and why they're important to him.
LBP: Let’s start at the beginning: where did the idea for Farlaine come from?
Farlaine was born in 2009 as a random freeform drawing. I'd often start doodling eyes or a face and then build up from there. In this case, the face was meant be a troll or giant or something big and lumbering, but somehow turned into a somewhat angry looking goblin.
I was having fun with it and kept going, giving him some big horns and huge ears with earrings. Then I started to think he reminded me of a shaman, so I added a little magic, a belt of potions and pouches and even a little skull. From there he gained a funny skirt made of leaves, and somewhere along the way he was given a bag thrown over his shoulder.
With everything else done, the bag was still empty, and then it suddenly clicked - what would a shaman, a protector of a specific forest, do when he went on vacation (or traveled anywhere for that matter)? And it just seemed obvious that he'd carry a tree from his home and it'd give him the ability to carry a little magic with him.
I kept coming back to him and really liked the idea as time passed, and for the next 2+ years I doodled him all the time, trying to get used to drawing him, deciding those little things like how many fingers and toes he should have, what his story would be like, and so on.
So he changed from this angry over-rendered goblin in the first drawing to a more sweet and friendly pot bellied goblin over time, and then the story developed and grew and came together. It was an intentionally long process and not just rushing out with the first thoughts I had.
LBP: Your decision to publish this book anonymously is incredibly compelling, and surprising -- especially in today’s publishing culture How did you come to this decision?
I had 3 thoughts...
1) I didn't want people to be influenced by the name on the book. No gender, no age, no race, no ethnicity, just a comic book. It could be Jim Lee drawing it on weekends or it could be a 10 year old girl in a village drawing by fireflies. All that should matter is the work and whether you like it.
2) It seemed like splitting my energy to be selling two products, myself and Farlaine. Maintaining a website, answering emails, and all of the other work that's involved. I'm not looking to draw Spider-Man or work for Marvel or DC, so why should anyone care who I am?
3) "It's all about the goblin." If 10 years from now I could have Farlaine be well known or me, I'd pick Farlaine hands down.
LBP: Your initial work on Farlaine has been satisfying on a lot of different levels -- first and foremost, the book itself. But secondly, your blog, which serves as a pragmatic overview of what it takes to self-publish a book in today’s market. Tell us about your journey. And what advice would you give to other creators hoping to launch a self-published series?
I did lots of prep work. I read Dave Sim's book, read lots of interviews from artists like Jeff Smith, and tried to get as much behind the scenes knowledge as I could about the day-to-day life of producing a comic. I had read interviews with Todd McFarlane where he talked about how he'd produce a page a day of finished ink work - so this was my artistic goal. I rarely hit it, but it at least gave me a bar to measure myself against.
Then I sort of threw out most of the rules and did my own thing, regardless of what the norm was or what everyone else said. Everyone said you need to do a traditional size vertical comic so it fits on comic book racks and into comic book sleeves with comic book back boards. It needs to be color because people only read color. It needs to be 22 pages because comics are 22 pages. And so on and so on.
But that wasn't really the comic I was making or wanted to read. I wanted a comic that was a self contained story that could change from issue to issue the way Barks' Disney comics or Uderzo's Asterix are.
I was also serious about doing this. I covered the wall of my apartment with every decent drawing I had done of Farlaine and his world so I'd see it constantly. I wrote and drew a short story, Farlaine in the Tinderlands, and brought it to a comic convention and showed it to working artists and asked for honest feedback. Was this professional? Would you buy it? I got some great feedback and suggestions for improvement, but generally, positive encouragement from the right people.
Mark Chiarello at DC did a portfolio review that was positive and gave me some great pointers. I showed it to Terry Moore and he said it looked like the kind of book he'd pick up. I showed it to Greg Capullo who, even without glasses, commended the storytelling and reinforced that that was key. Storytelling was more important than style and pretty lines. Good characters, good story, clear storytelling.
I then wrote out the complete first issue, 30-40 pages in Word, and sent it around for feedback to a couple of close friends.
And then the biggest thing I did - I left my job.
I spent the first few months working on a non-comic project, and then on Jan 1, 2012 I started drawing. I wasn't very fast at first and those first few pages probably took me a lot longer than anything and came out looking far less than I wanted...but I kept at it like it was my real job 7 days a week for the next 9 months until the unemployment ran out and I'd sold off everything I could sell off.
So I committed on a somewhat epic scale to the whole enterprise.
I also tried to have realistic goals of simply getting the book done and out there. I wasn't aiming for an infinite series or to break into Marvel or draw Spider-Man. I just wanted to tell my little story and have people give it a chance.
I guess the one piece of advice I'd offer on the artistic side, in that it at least helped me, was to get ahold of some of the original art from my favorite artists and just stare and learn from it. I learned more from seeing that up close than I did from most books or classes. It helped to understand where to spend your time, how much detail you really need to put in, what reproduces well and what doesn't, and so on. Very helpful
LBP: In your blog you reflect a little on your creative process, sharing that you’ll often work on multiple issues at the same time -- drawing issue #2 while writing issue #3, for example. What have been some of the unexpected joys and challenges of acting as both artist and writer for this book?
For me at least, my brain almost breaks into two parts. When I'm writing I only write. I try to describe what I see in my head and don't do a lot of drawings or preliminaries, just write. I don't really connect that the artist is someone I know.
Then once the script is done I print off a couple of pages at a time to draw. I'll draw page 1 and may not understand my own writing or see it differently in my head then. Or maybe I have other ideas that develop as I start drawing that I want to incorporate, so I'll sometimes alter what I'm drawing and then go back and update the script.
I always work in chronological order and don't lay out the whole book at once. One page at a time, generally from start to finish - pencils, ink, scanning, lettering, etc. I wouldn't even be thinking of the next issue but just blindly drawing what I'd already written.
And when the book was finally done I'd go back and reread it and see how the whole thing came together...and then do another hundred revisions of the writing now that there were panels and characters and size limitations and all of that.
I iterate a LOT on the writing, trying to pare down the wording, come up with funnier jokes, clarify things, help the story flow, etc. Early on I was doing a lot of very wordy panels that I'd later have to break apart or alter because it wasn't an enjoyable read.
One other thing I really preferred about my unprofessional approach was that there wasn't that monthly pressure to rush something out no matter what. I was able to walk away from a book I'd finished and reread it months later with a fresh set of eyes, and you'd finally see it for what it was and the glaring issues were easy to spot and you stopped falling quite so in love with certain phrases you wrote or panels you drew. "Kill your darlings", as Stephen King says, is a lot easier when you have some distance.
LBP: You’ve shared that Farlaine is a character for all ages, which in the publishing world is often used as shorthand for saying this is a “kids book.” And yet this doesn’t feel like a “kids book.” How did you come to take this approach? And how has it impacted narrative decisions?
I'd again point to Donald Duck and Asterix, books that are generally thought of as kids books but are still incredibly enjoyable for an adult. I never set out to make it any type of book, just to make it the book I wanted it to be. When I was finished and looked at it, I went "Oh, this is something kids will like", and when I showed it to some kids they seemed to like it.
And to be honest, I don't really expect it to be popular with the average teenage boy who reads superhero comics. It's not something I think they'd appreciate.
Amazing Spider-Man #300, by Todd McFarlane and David Michelinie: I remember sleeping over a friend's house who had this book sitting on a pile of comics. I was so taken by it I snuck out of the room to read it in the hallway. I was blown away and loved it. I didn't care who the artist or writer were, it was just a thoroughly enjoyable read. Venom was a great new character, Spidey starting in the black costume before changing it back to the red and blues, and this strange battle with two characters in the same costume. I later went on and redrew a bunch of panels from this book for fun and still consider it the single most influential comic in my life.
Uncanny X-Men #251, Marc Silvestri, Dan Green and Chris Claremont: The first X-Men comic I ever saw or read during summer camp. To me this cover just ruled. I had never before seen the X-Men or Wolverine, so this was a pretty stark introduction. The story wasn't all that exciting, and was actually pretty confusing for a kid who knew nothing about that was going on, but it was a neat introduction. Wolverine as a weak and helpless individual, not a strong and dominant berserker, and Jubilee as the kid who saves him.
Iron Man 227, by Mark Bright, Bob Layton, and David Michelinie: The first Iron Man comic I ever remember reading. I remember panels from it clearly to this day and oddly remember feeling an affinity for the character because he wore the same tighty whitey underwear as me. Kids think weird. But it was also the plot and the story...someone trying to get back something that was stolen from them. One person against the world. And with some snarky Spidey-like banter going on too. What was funny too was that for years after this I always thought Iron Man was red and silver, and when I'd occasionally see older comics I'd think "they colored him wrong"! It's a very strange experience to be introduced to a character outside of their normal look!
It takes a lot of guts to quit your job and launch a comic. But maybe more importantly, it takes a good marketing strategy. And while Farlaine doesn’t launch until September 4, the creator’s current marketing strategy has already won some impressive fans, and demonstrated some impressive reach. Just recently The Comics Journal gave Farlaine a shout-out, a major accomplishment for a fledgling book, and a testament to the effectiveness of this creator’s marketing approach. So how did he do it? To start, the creator sent 25 books out for review, and took out a full page ad in Diamond. Later, the creator sent 300 copies of issue #1 to retailers scattered across the country; he plans to send-off 400 copies of Issue #2, and 500 copies of #3, so the likelihood of seeing Farline the Goblin at your local shop is high. Plus, if you live in Boston, Baltimore, or NY, keep an eye out -- the creator will be at all of those conventions. And while this approach has been yielding some good results, a good marketing strategy, of course, is not what makes a good comic. Storytelling and art is what makes a good comic. Good thing Farlaine the Goblin is pretty damn close to having both.