Steve Stormoen is the writer and co-creator of The Pros, a self-published political/action comedy comic about four unlikely spies working for an insurance company. Issue four of the series, which concludes the first story arc, is currently on Kickstarter.
CYA: Your series 'The Pros' is crowdfunding it's fourth issue which concludes it's first arc - congratulations! How does it feel to have gone through this process? What have been the benefits and stresses of the crowdfunding process?
Steve Stormoen: Thank you! It feels amazing. And terrifying. I dunno, I'm a fucking mess. Like any neurotic writer, I have plenty of nits to pick, but I'm also extremely proud of what we've put together. And in a larger sense, there aren't many things in my whole life, even outside of writing, that I've ever put this much energy and effort into and then actually finished, so that feels pretty darn good.
As for crowdfunding, the benefits are huge. It's a great tool to compress all the energy and attention your project is ever going to get into a span of 30 days. Of course, you also have to compress all your sales and marketing energy into 30 days too, which is giant fucking drain. Kickstarter really is the catalyst that makes a ton more things possible to me: printing the comic, reimbursing some of my expenses for art and production, and leaving me with a product at the end that I can bring to cons to introduce to a wider audience. Something that I can point to that makes me a legitimate comics creator.
That said, I'm probably not going to run another crowdfunding campaign for a long while. I don't have the audience size yet to fund a whole print run from everyone paying cover price, so I still rely on a portion of my audience kicking in more, and sometimes a lot more. I don't like asking them for money so often — even though they keep handing it over to me, those incredible, crazy bastards. I'd like to work with a publisher next to see what that's like.
CYA: Your comic is described as an absurdist spy thriller but with the passing news of each day, some of the concepts become more and more realistic. Compared to when you started writing the comic, has the changing state of the country influenced the story or have you stuck to your initial scripts?
Stormoen: Man, it's been a weird couple years, hasn't it? And this has been a particularly tough week (I'm currently writing this eight days after Charlottesville). I've been compulsively reading the news for the last year, commentary and analysis from any new viewpoint I can find, trying to download this insane fucking zeitgeist in a way that makes sense, that has at least some semblance of internal logic. It's absolutely terrible for one's health, relationships, or ability to hold a job, and I don't recommend it. But, to be obnoxiously self-indulgent, I feel like maybe writers of speculative fiction ought to be the mental health martyrs of our collective unconscious. It's our job to think of the most fucked up paths society could take and explore them deeply enough and express them clearly enough to steer everyone else away.
The Pros is a different sort of path. I started writing this thing in 2012 and I've stuck to my initial ideas and outlines for the story pretty closely since then. The central conceit — that the trend of private industries taking over government functions would lead an insurance company to try to out-compete the CIA — probably could have arisen any time since the Reagan administration. It meant something very different in the Clinton/Bush/Obama technocratic consensus than it does under the naked oligarchy of Trumpism, but that's a problem volume 2 is going to have to solve.
CYA: As a community organizer and activist, you're on the ground when it comes to local and national protests - that perspective and vision shows in your work: you tackle real issues without making the story entire about politics. Who are some other voices in comics who you think deliver a grounded approach to modern politics?
Stormoen: It's a hard line to walk between making fiction that feels politically relevant but doesn't have a single reductive sort of "message", that respects the ambiguity and range of voices you can achieve in fiction but still feels like it has something to say. As far as modern politics in comics, I really dig what Ales Kot is doing, and that G. Willow Wilson can keep instilling Ms. Marvel with so much life and feeling and urgency in her own little corner of such a massive meta-story is incredible. And I'm forever enthralled with and indebted to the Internet Love Swami himself, Warren Ellis. I wish China Miéville or Coulson Whitehead would start making comics.
CYA: For the comic you work with an artist based in Serbia, a letterer based in Italy and a graphic designer based on the east coast - how has this process worked out for you? How has the team dynamic been despite the distance between each person involved in the process?
Stormoen: I love my team on The Pros so much, and I really enjoy touting how international we are because it sounds impressive, but truthfully? I don't really notice the distance. It's kind like doing basically anything else on the internet.
I'm from an odd generation where you could grow up on the internet but it was still kind of small and the idea was somewhat novel. I could log in to AIM or my favorite anime chat room (lol) and hang out with dozens of people I knew but never met from around the world. So from my perspective, the team dynamic has been absolutely fantastic. I love seeing Greg and Jelena talking about stuff on Facebook, and now that I don't have new pages coming in, I really really miss having emails from Jelena in my inbox every couple days.
CYA: What advice would you give to a creator hesitant to undertake the process of crowdfunding a comic? What do you wish you knew before that you know now from your experience?
Stormoen: For a new creator, I would encourage them to do it, but not beat themselves up if they can't. Making comics is really, really, really, really hard, and the only advice the comics community has to offer is "#makecomics", which is basically just the Nike slogan for nerds. I'm sorry, but that's some bootstrappy, classist bullshit. Unless you have a few thousand dollars a month you don't mind setting on fire or you don't pay your contributors a professional wage, you can't just "make comics". But if you're doing it — and you should, if you can — the best practical advice I can offer is to finish absolutely everything you can afford to before you start asking for money. That doesn't just mean the script and art and lettering, it also means building an audience, budgeting the whole project, sourcing your rewards, and planning your marketing and outreach. It's an insane amount of work, and it is going to cost you a lot of money. Not every piece is necessary every time, but everything you do in advance makes it more likely that your project will succeed. And if you don't succeed the first time, that's okay. Try again. Or go overthrow capitalism. That would help a lot more than my other advice, actually.
CYA: Where does the finale of the first arc leave the characters? How much more stories do you think you can or will explore in the universe of 'The Pros'?
Stormoen: The main characters in The Pros start out as total strangers, so a lot of the first story arc is concerned with the reader getting to know them, and the characters getting to know each other. Nass enters as the depressive idealist, Caitlyn is pragmatic but untrusting, Cle is full of ingenuity and insecurity in equal parts, and Sasha is a nihilistic genius. At the end of the first arc, they each get just enough from each other to stick with this insane job for another mission. I've got enough good ideas right now for five volumes of The Pros, and I have a decent idea of how the characters would develop throughout. 25-30 issues is pretty ambitious for a self-published comic, though, so we're going to take it one arc at a time.
CYA: What's next on deck for you in comics? Are there plans to work on something new or more 'Pros' following the release of the fourth issue?
Stormoen: After issue #4, Jelena and I are taking a break from The Pros for a bit to work on other comics. We both love The Pros and we're definitely coming back for volume 2, but we'd like to get some other things moving in the meantime. To help me develop my next project, I've hired a phenomenal editor and human being, Brendan H. Wright, who's worked with Dark Horse and Image and is now developing a really cool new line of comics for New Arab Media. We've been hit with a bunch of starts and stops so far that have been outside our control, but we've definitely got some sweet stuff brewing and hopefully we'll have something to announce sooner or later.
The fourth issue of The Pros can be backed on Kickstarter right now at the following link. You can also find a Facebook page for the series here.