Epic Adventures Across the Pond

An Interview with Amy Letts, by Jennifer “Scraps” Walker that first appeared in the August, 2012, issue of Self Publisher! Magazine.

With the advent of webcomics, the barriers to entry to self-publish a comic came down to just one question: do you have access to the Internet?

Some see this as watering down the industry, giving more credence to the gatekeepers at the major publishing houses than, perhaps, they deserve. Others, myself included, acknowledge that it takes more than an Internet connection to keep a comic going. Hundreds of comics start strong and fizzle out. Many times the dreaded “real life” crops up, forcing creators to snatch what time they can for this hobby-with-a-hope-of more. Such is the case for UK artist, Amy Letts.

‘Epic Fail’, Letts’ RPG-based comic, first hit the web in 2009 after a previous comic attempt suffered from a common malady: a failure to plan. EF, on the other hand, is loosely based on the author’s long-running RPG game. As a gamer, myself, I can see where having such rich fodder can help keep the story inspired.  What began as a weekly, long-form comic has, over the years, turned into an update-when-possible comic–something that is generally decried by the webcomickerati—the potential negative effects (loss of readership, etc.) Letts combats with a sidebar progress-meter leading up to the next update and blog posts to keep the site moving.

It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Amy Letts.

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SP!: As a comic artist who did not grow up reading many comics, other than what was in the newspaper, I’m always curious: were you a comics fan growing up?

Letts: I remember reading the Beano, the Dandy, Sonic the Comic, My Pony, and, of course, the Star Trek comic books! But my literary choice was fantasy, so I kept my writing and art separate to a large extent. I do remember drawing a very detailed comic about the antics of our family dogs though.
It took rediscovering comics on the Internet for me to realise that fantasy comics were “allowed.” It was webcomics like Dungeon Crawl Inc., 8-Bit Theatre, LINT, and Order of the Stick that made me think “I can do this.”

SP!: How long have you been drawing?

Letts: I probably started “seriously” by drawing Ponies when I was 7 years old, although my memory is a bit fuzzy back then. I took my first commission when I was 14.

SP!: Wow, 14, that’s pretty impressive. Jumping ahead a bit, you went the Fine Arts route and got your degree, started your web-design company at 20 and, now, you’re 28 and doing a webcomic. How much time per week do you spend on your comic?

Letts: It’s hard to work out exactly how much time I’m spending on comic projects at the moment because I have to grab little pieces of time between my other jobs; it probably averages at a couple of days a week.

SP!: Like most of us, then, I guess you have to make ends meet by means other than your comic. How do you manage?

Letts: [Since] I cannot support myself making comics (yet!)… I work several jobs to pay the bills.
1) I’m a self-employed Website Designer, building and maintaining websites for various business clients.
2) I’m a professional Artist, doing everything from Pet Portraits to Album Covers.
3) I’m a Clinical Teaching Associate, teaching Medical students about Women’s Health via Role-Play.
4) I’m a Clinical Volunteer, meaning I’m paid to take experimental vaccines and contract tropical diseases, but I’m potentially helping to save millions of lives!
5) I’m a Life-Model, I take my clothes off for money. I mean ART!
6) Well… I’m kind of applying for another job. Of course I don’t know if I’ll get it. But I’m moving towards Teaching Art in the local community.

SP!: I’ve spoken to many comics creators who were inspired by webcomics to create their own, only to find that they no longer have the time to read the comics that inspired them in the first place! Do you find yourself falling into that habit?

Letts: That’s somewhat true, however I have always been quite selective about what comics I read and have not been in the habit of checking back daily. My preferred reading style is to check on them every now and then and do a bit of a stint, so the comics have to work when read back-to-back.

SP!: What makes a comic (print or web) worth carving out the time to read when you’re already so busy?

Letts: I need a plot that is going somewhere, I’ve dumped comics from my reading list because they seemed to be going nowhere. I follow comics that seem to be building towards a good ending. I need a payoff of some kind. In addition they need to make me giggle a bit.

SP!: So, eventually, you’d like to support yourself by doing comics full-time. Do you have a plan to get from the catch-as-catch-can to the full-time business and what does it look like?

Letts: Well my understanding of webcomics as a business is that people can read your comic for free so you need to sell peripherals to make dosh. This year I’ve been working a bit on ‘product development’ – stuff besides my comic I can sell – and next year’s conventions will serve as the market research!

Aside from that I’ve spoken to some major UK bookstores who’ve given me invaluable advice about what I need to do to if I want to be stocked by them. But drawing more comics is step number one – and making them super awesome so everyone will want them!

SP!: Have you ever put out print editions of your webcomic?

Letts: Yes I have created a printed version of my webcomic ‘Epic Fail.’ It is in comic book format and I intend to release a series of 12 encompassing the whole story. So far only #1 is done, although #2 is pretty far along in the production process.

There’s two ‘versions’ available, one from IndyPlanet, the other a Limited Edition of 100. The Limited Edition one is a bit nicer, slightly larger, better quality and on lush paper. I was quite hands-on with this because I wanted it to be as good as I could make it. Because I handle these personally…you can also get it signed, of course. I’m nearly sold out of these now, but the IndyPlanet version (being print-on-demand) is always in stock!

SP!: Do you ever exhibit at conventions? What’s been your experience with that?

Letts: I occasionally exhibit at conventions but I suffer from social anxiety so they can be a pretty terrifying experience for me! However each convention is different – amazingly different! – so I’m gradually sampling new ones. This year I’m doing Mkomix and Caption. Next year I’d like to try a Role-Play Gaming convention (since those are ma peeps)!

SP1: The indie comics market changes so rapidly, the best thing we can do is learn from each other instead of trying to reinvent the wheel each time. What have been the best strategies, for you so far, of getting the word out about your comics?

Letts: When I’d put out a mere 3 pages of Epic Fail I joined the Webcomic War – a competition where you earned points by promoting your comic and the best promoter won. I came 2nd, defeated by Union of Heroes, and it was a really good crash course in promoting!

Basically you want a lot of relevant sites linking to you, and a good way to do that and build good will is to send Fan Art to your favourite webcomics! Everyone loves Fan Art so they will most likely post it and link to you!

Aside from that, Twitter worked pretty well for me. Just don’t go around spamming ‘Hey check my comic out’ because that is a sure-fire way to annoy everyone!

SP!: Is Epic Fail the project you see yourself concentrating on for the duration or do you have other books/stories/characters waiting for their turn?

Letts: I expect Epic Fail to be my main thing, always, but I do have some short stories I’d like to tell. I’m quite interested in making a comic about Migraines, because I am a sufferer and I guess I’d like to make my invisible illness a bit more visible.

Along more light-hearted lines I’ve created two characters called Fugly and Crunt who I think are the perfect double act! People hate Fugly because he’s ugly (terrible comeliness), and people hate Crunt because he’s rude (awful charisma), but together they find friendship. It’s kinda cute.

SP1: Finally, because most of us would love a do-over at some point, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started publishing your webcomic?

Letts: How to organise myself and stop procrastinating: Make ‘To Do’ lists, itemise tasks and do them one step at a time.

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Best of luck to you, Amy.

Epic Fail can be found at http://epicfail.xepher.net/, while Amy’s art and design services can be found through www.amuletts.com.

Back in the Comics Saddle

You have been checking up on Cocktail Hour and Where the Geeks Are, right?

At Cocktail Hour we’ve picked back up the story of Todd and I moving in together and this month we’ll see some of the unexpected challenges that came with that first house together (ooh, foreshadowing!). While over at Geeks we’ve wrapped up the Meredith and Archer thread for now and are concentrating on Sophie’s Geekathon experiences for the next couple of months.

You’ll be pleased to know that even with our first convention in ages keeping us away from home for 4 days, kept me so busy I barely had time to measure out the panels, much less draw anything, and the flurry of activity before and after, we’ve yet to miss an update over the last month since we brought both comics back current. Based on that, I think it’s safe to say we’re good to go for the foreseeable future.

Things that I’d like to work on, comics-wise, over the next month or two:

  • Building up a 1 week (then 2 week, then up to a month’s) buffer on each comic to lessen the deadline pressure and make the upcoming convention weekends less hectic.
  • Increase the traffic to both sites (always a struggle–time to start networking again)
  • Revamp the look of each site both for form and function.

Meanwhile, over in Raiding Party news, I finally have confirmation that the new shopping cart plugin (Ecwid) is working as it should–we’ve had our first online order since the switch. We’re also seeing folks start to make use of the community site which thrills me to no end! Two folks who bought books at Ancient City Con have registered and one’s even posted her first recipe picture. Love giving out that XP!

And, elsewhere, I’ve got a couple of pieces in August’s SP! Magazine (Self Publisher) and am working on another article for September. It’s awesome that Ian and the gang are getting things moving with the Self Publisher Association and I’m happy to be in a place where I can contribute!

That’s the update for now, now it’s off to make more comics!