It’s become a tradition for modern comics fans and collectors to circle that first Saturday in May and head out to their local shops to line up for the offerings of Free Comic Book Day. Guaranteed you’ll find material from the bigger companies promoting their latest extravaganza, usually a company-wide crossover event or a television or film tie-in if they’ve reached that bigger stage. That stuff should be plentiful and easy to get. But if you’re not already doing it, you should take the opportunity to allot some of your choices (some shops have to put a limit on picks to avoid hoarders ruining it for everybody and cleaning them out in the first five minutes) to try out and discover quality material from smaller publishers that have to work a lot harder, just trying to survive and see another FCBD.
This year, I’m sharing the love and putting another company that’s been on my radar the last few years in the spotlight: ComixTribe. So where did I first hear of them? Where else? When I picked up a FCBD #0 issue for a limited series called The Red Ten. Basically, the premise is a pastiche of Justice League and Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians. The super-team of this universe is put through hell, as starting with the death of their Batman archetype, somebody with an agenda is killing them off one-by-one. Because a newer, un-established universe is less burdened by rules to follow, such as protection of certain characters thanks to fan favoritism or blind nostalgia, a story like this even being allowed to happen can take root in a twisted fan-boy’s mind, with a fascination to see how it all plays out. It’s like finding an old issue of What If? without the “what if?”. I’ve been pretty clear in past columns that the preference for my impatient self to read story arcs these days is in trade format. Which will lead to my only complaint to ComixTribe: the wait on new issues of Red Ten taking sooo long is killing us! Even if I broke down at this point and rounded up individual issues, the full story still isn’t out and we’re getting on three years! I don’t want to pick on them, as there have been other infamous delays through the years (some with good reason, some not so good), but they only have themselves to blame. C’mon folks, you’ve hooked everyone in with a good story. Now it’s time to take it home!
As a publisher, ComixTribe has taken strong creator-driven properties under its’ wing, versus focusing on any specific genre like some other smaller companies. Some notables, besides Red Ten, include the anti-hero struggles of Scam, the horror-fable themed And Then Emily Was Gone (strikingly illustrated by Iain Laurie), the upcoming “surf noir” series Chum and the more conventional teen-hero stylings of Epic. Due to positive fan response, the potential was even seen in granting a villain, Oxymoron, a limited series: The Loveliest Nightmare. Some will say based on his, uh, temperament and modus operandi, Oxymoron is the Joker of this world, but let me clarify. After the white mask with an evil grin, Oxy’s crimes and targets are less chaos-inspired and actually meet a crazy rationale where the victim(s) deserved what was coming to them for anyone able to see the “message”. As an example, take a televangelist who preaches moral fidelity and the sanctity of family to the masses getting caught and murdered with an underage mistress in his bed and you get the idea.
But quality of material aside, the main thing I want to point out this time around isn’t any specific ComixTribe series or characters. It’s more of whom they are as a company, some of the things they do, and what that should mean to you as a fan and supporter of comics. Based out of Newburyport, Massachusetts, ComixTribe is helmed by Tyler James (publisher) and Steven Forbes (editor-in-chief), both also contributing creators to some past and current company efforts. Even as I’ve seen them slowly but surely grow over the last few years, I still get the impression of ComixTribe as hardworking at the grass-roots level and always in the corner of “the little guy”. For fans, this means a lot of free or heavily discounted products for anyone who wants to see more and can take the time to make a couple of clicks.
See for yourself: at comixtribe.com, you can order 5 free issues to sample right now. When every cent counts, these guys are willing to take the hit and get the word out and hopefully, more buzz on product they believe in. Looking at the bigger picture with an “if somebody does better, we all do better” philosophy, ComixTribe hasn’t been shy to promo material and products put out by other creators and companies if they like them and think we will too, an unselfish attitude that simply wouldn’t fly at a bigger conglomerate. One warning to cross-border shoppers like myself: it’s not on ComixTribe, but once you get stung for shipping & handling and/or have to make up the difference for a weak exchange rate, some items, while still neat to get your hands on and check out, are far from the “free” they initially appear to be. Ouch.
Their social media presence is heavy, but the company is still small enough that direct communication isn’t an impossibility. Even if it was just a quick line, I’ve appreciated the time Tyler James took out of a busy schedule to respond to me. A fact of life for any company at that level is everyone at the office is forced to wear at least six hats at any given time. The luxury of being able to focus on just one thing and kick menial grunt work down to interns is something only the staff of companies at the big kids’ table get.
For aspiring creators or anyone interested in learning more of the inner workings of how comics are made, ComixTribe is a wealth of resource material. In-house, they offer an Ask ComixTribe series and Steven Forbes runs The Proving Ground, where spec scripts are critiqued. Yeah, it can get brutal sometimes, but it’s honest, it’s free, you don’t have to line up at a convention, and if the goal is to eventually have your stuff read by the public, you’re gonna need to start developing that thick skin somewhere, right? You can subscribe to a weekly CreatorBlast and in your inbox every Tuesday, you’ll get a bunch of links to all sorts of things comic-related from the whimsical to the technical. Whether it’s blogs, insider reports/interviews, how-to’s, script & artwork/panel analysis, suggestions on getting organized/tools to use, marketing advice, even tips on how to attend a convention-from both sides of the table.
Tyler James has taken this one step further, creating and sharing a ComixLaunch podcast that touches on many aspects you’d expect but delves deeper into areas the average person just starting out might not be as well-versed in, like the pros and cons of DIY versus signing up with a distribution company (in other words, Diamond or Comixology). As the mind behind multiple successful Kickstarter campaigns, James has willingly compiled and shared info for successful crowd-funding strategies, even fair assessments on some other c.f. initiatives. For real, kids, this isn’t a pay up front and maybe you’ll get info that maybe you can use scenario. I don’t know how indie creators did it before the internet, but these people are answering questions you didn’t even know you had. You really get the sense ComixTribe remembers where it comes from and wants to help others get their foot in that door too, while saving you valuable time and money. The only expectation seems to be the hope that you’ll pay it forward, even if it isn’t necessarily with them.
Sadly, ComixTribe will not be participating in this year’s FCBD. That Free in the title for we, the fans, comes from somewhere, and that’s usually the pockets of the publishers. Chump change for a mega-company, but amounts that can make or break an operations budget for an underdog. Along with some other publishers, ComixTribe tried crunching some numbers, but still couldn’t make it work and are forced to bow out of this year’s festivities, at least the freebie portion. All the more reason to reinforce my plea for you to try something new when you can. If I didn’t snag that Red Ten a few years back, I wouldn’t be talking to you about ComixTribe here today. Your open-mindedness to pick up and willingness to give a few minutes reading something new could be helping another ComixTribe get off the ground floor. May 7th is our day to celebrate, but keep that freak flag proudly flying the other 364 days of the year.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!!!