Jumpstarting a Career Through Kickstarter – Ryan Claytor Interviews Rachel Allen Everett


Editor’s Note: Cartoonist, Professor, Podcaster, and Coordinator of the Michigan State University Comic Art and Graphic Novel Minor Ryan Claytor recently pitched SOLRAD wanting to do an interview with an up-and-coming cartoonist, Rachel Allen Everett, who’s current Kickstarter for The Manderfield Devil really grabbed his attention.

What follows is a transcript of their conversation.

Ryan Claytor: For those who haven’t visited your Kickstarter page yet, can you give us a brief pitch of The Manderfield Devil comics project that is live through Nov. 19th, 2021?

Rachel Allen Everett: Certainly! The Manderfield Devil is a noir murder mystery meets horror fantasy about a detective sent to investigate a string of murders in the remote town of Manderfield. And while at first he is dismissive of the townfolk’s superstitions, he soon discovers that there may actually be a Devil in Manderfield after all. 

The 37-page one-shot was published online earlier this year and is available to read for free. The Kickstarter was created to fund a 60-page book which includes The Manderfield Devil and 20+ pages of bonus content featuring an afterword, sketchbook, and pinup section. The campaign was funded in one week, and I’m now pushing for my stretch goal so that everyone can get a hardcover book instead of softcover. 

RC: You’re maintaining the original tier pricing, but if you meet your stretch goal, all physical backers will receive a hardback rather than a softcover. That sounds like an incredible upgrade for backers at the $18 physical tier. What are your thoughts on cover price whether the book sees print as soft or hard cover?

RAE: My plan is to sell softcover for around $20 and hardcover for around $25. So yes, it’s a pretty great discount if we reach that hardcover stretch goal! I set my initial Kickstarter goal to fund softcover as a minimum viable product, but it’s hardcover that meets my ideal vision for this book. I really want my backers and anyone who picks up a copy of The Manderfield Devil to feel they’ve bought something equal in quality to, say, a BPRD short story, and I think the hardcover book will really push it over that edge.

RC: I’ve heard mention of your influences in your Kickstarter pitch and a number of interviews, which include 1930’s rubber hose cartoons, radio dramas, and The Twilight Zone.  That’s an interesting mix with your more modern leanings toward works like Hellboy and Over the Garden Wall.  How does a person your age (20’s?) encounter and connect with media from so many decades past?

RAE: Haha! Yes, I’m 25. But I do consider myself an old soul. I’ve always been enchanted by anything older than the 1970s. It might have something to do with my father being a family historian, or my mother being a Regency-era expert and writer. I think most of my fascination comes from aesthetics, like all the interesting clothes people used to wear or the strange devices we used to use. But I am also fascinated by how much society, at its core, really has not changed over the course of its history. I like reading about things from the 1950s and earlier about how excited people were for “mankind’s newest discovery” or all our “significant advancements,” and laughing at how far off their idyllic speculations were about our day. It can really put things into perspective to think about how little we’ve advanced since then, and how little we’ll advance in 50 years. But I also love searching for wisdom from the past. There’s something novel about it to me, even though it’s technically old news. So I very purposefully seek out old literature and watch old films and listen to old radio dramas because I enjoy the time-traveling experience. 

RC: Can you point to one influential piece of media from the first half of the 20th century and talk about its direct influence on The Manderfield Devil?

RAE: Oh boy, that’s a hard decision! I think I’ve got to say that The Twilight Zone beats all, since it was what drove me to tell a noir-style story, and since Detective Hogan quite literally enters The Twilight Zone. I think that if The Manderfield Devil were to fit in any other medium, it would be best adapted as a Twilight Zone episode. However, I must also give a nod to X Minus One and Have Gun Will Travel, which were two radio dramas that helped me give the right vintage voice to The Manderfield Devil. I’d love to hear John Dehner portray Detective Ben Hogan. All that said, I’m fairly certain all those influences were technically from the 1960s, and so to better fit your question, I’ll also throw in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Mariah the saint and Mariah the robot-daemon heavily influenced the duality of Leslie’s character. 

RC: Do you mind discussing how these aforementioned influences had an impact on the page design for your kickstarter campaign?

RAE: Sure! The page design for the campaign basically took the book through a modern design lens. I wanted the page to feel airy and clean and simple, and so the only references to the film noir/art deco vibe that carried over to the page were things like the frames and fonts I chose to use. I wanted it to be a subtle nod to old black and white intertiles or title pages. Everything else about the design was influenced by other Kickstarter campaign pages I liked, most notably Jake Parker’s Drawings 5 campaign. 

RC: I also heard you mention an acquaintance with Jeff Lemire.  Do you have any other notable mentors or folks helping you run your first campaign?

RAE: Yes! I’m very grateful to Jeff for being a good friend and for showing me a lot of support as I’ve taken my first steps in the comics industry. Two more of my greatest mentors have been Jake Parker and Will Terry, both illustrators and co-creators of the online learning platform, SVS Learn. Jake has been a wonderful mentor for making comics in general, as well as for business advice. Will was particularly helpful in setting up my current campaign because he was generous enough to send me his manuscript for his Complete Kickstarter Playbook (currently on Kickstarter) which was an invaluable tool. I also have to thank Chris Bodily, founder of Ghost Machine Publishing, who has been very supportive of The Manderfield Devil and consulted me closely about my campaign setup. I count myself lucky and blessed to have so many talented and fantastic teachers to help me out. 

RC: What have you learned from conducting your first crowd-funding campaign?  Any lessons to pass along about what to do or what to avoid?

RAE: I’ve learned a lot! Technically, The Manderfield Devil is actually my second campaign. Back in 2015, I launched a Kickstarter for a 16-page zero issue for my ongoing project, 13 Light-Years Away. That project was much smaller and I only needed about $1000 to print my book but wound up throwing in so many extra bells and whistles (pins, t-shirts, etcetera) as rewards without accounting for their costs. I’m very certain that at the end of the day I actually lost money on that campaign because of those extra things. For The Manderfield Devil, I’ve been very careful to keep things as simple as possible. I made sure I accounted for the costs of the stickers and prints I included in the different reward tiers and specifically selected items that could all fit in the same mailer so I don’t come up against packaging complications while I fulfill orders. Perhaps the best bit of advice I had for this campaign was from Chris, who recommended that I make my initial goal just enough to fund the softcover version of the book–minimum viable product–and then work my way up to hardcover as a stretch goal. I think that, especially when you’re just starting out, keeping your expectations small is the best way to go. That way you’re more likely to fund, and if you reach your stretch goals, it’s all the better. 

RC: What comics do you have planned after the fulfillment of The Manderfield Devil?

RAE: I just barely finished up a short comic for a sci-fi comics anthology called Another New World, which I hope you’ll see on Kickstarter in the near future. The story I drew is called “Upgrade”, written by Susan Connolly. I’ll soon start work on layouts and pencils for an all-ages graphic novel series written by some fellow BYU alumni. The story’s called “Ashwood Manor”, and I’d describe it as Knives Out meets Willy Wonka. As far as personal projects go, I’m currently working on a pitch package for a comic series called 13 Light-Years Away, which I hope to send to agents and publishers in 2022. It’s a young-adult sci-fi fantasy that is like Dune meets Hayao Miyazaki. It’s about a boy named Felix, who, as the sole survivor on Earth, has lost all hope of human connection…until he finds a way to communicate with a scrappy girl and her ancient human society on a planet 13 light-years away. I’m lucky enough to be in a position in life right now to make comics full-time and am eager to take on as many comics projects as I can from here on out.

RC: After your success on Kickstarter, what has you interested in pursuing more traditional publishing contracts rather than continuing to build your self-published library?

RAE: It’s mostly a personal motivation thing. I’ve set a standard for myself that I want to reach, and that involves producing at a quality level that matches creators like Mike Mignola and Jeff Lemire, which means I want to be published by labels like Image and Dark Horse. While I do think that self-publishing is ultimately the best and most lucrative route for comics creators these days, I want the clout that comes from being published, and the leg up it’d bring me to have my work mass-distributed. My hope is that once I’ve been published and my name has been better established throughout the industry, my audience for crowdfunding will expand enough not to rely on publishers. However, I get a lot more done when there’s a deadline enforced, and I can’t do that as well with self-motivated projects. So I may find that publishers better suit me in the long run. We’ll see. 

RC: Do you have any further stories you want to tell in the Manderfield universe? Sounds like you’ve got a full plate of alternate projects, but I can’t help feeling as though you have a lot of time and research invested in this story.

RAE: I’m nothing if not thorough when it comes to telling stories! Great question. Initially, I created The Manderfield Devil to stand on its own, although as I’ve thought about it more, I do love the idea of diving further into Oasis’ whole deal. I imagine her as an ageless goddess who has always controlled the Manderfield area from behind the scenes. I’d be interested to explore her shenanigans in the distant past with the Utes or the Ancestral Puebloans, or far in the future with flying cars and androids. But I’ve also thought about exploring within the same 1930s era, perhaps following Hogan around as he gets wrapped up in even more strange happenings brought about by different magical beings across the US — although that might ultimately just become my watered-down version of Hellboy. There is also the possibility of following Charles, as the poor cursed beast struggles to find a place to call home. All this is to say that, yes, there are further stories within The Manderfield Devil universe that I could absolutely explore, and may very well do so someday. 

RC: Thanks for your time, Rae. Best of luck with the remaining couple weeks of your Kickstarter and the remaining several decades of your comics career! The Manderfield Devil is currently live on Kickstarter through Nov. 19, 2021.

SOLRAD is made possible by the generous donations of readers like you. Support our Patreon campaign, or make a tax-deductible donation to our publisher, Fieldmouse Press, today.

Ryan Claytor is the Coordinator of the Comic Art and Graphic Novel Minor and Assistant Professor at Michigan State University where he teaches Comics Studio courses and spearheaded the development of the interdisciplinary Comic Art and Graphic Novel minor between the Art and English departments. Claytor's achievements have included five Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo Prizes , including the top prize, 1st place in the Graphic Novel category, for his work in comics. As a creator, Claytor is known for his award-winning, self-published, autobiographical, comic book series "And Then One Day", as well as his collaborative work on "Coin-Op Carnival: Electrifying Tales of Mechanical Contraptions", which is illustrated by Claytor and co-written by Nick Baldridge and Ryan Claytor. Readers are consistently treated with Claytor's thoughtful and entertaining approach to non-fiction comics immaculately packaged with a designer's eye for production detail. Claytor's international client list includes companies such as Moleskine, Stern Pinball, Verizon Wireless, Mr. Jones Watches, and more. Other artistic pursuits include designing neon signs and watches.

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