Curtis Clow on Beastlands, Dark Horse Partnership and Successful Kickstarters (Exclusive)

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Beastlands. Courtesy of Dark Horse.

Beastlands is a medieval fantasy comic that started off as a successful Kickstarter, where three teenagers try to save their companion beasts known as “Keepers.” It will be released under Dark Horse Comics later this month. Comic book writer and creator Curtis Clow is known for other successful comic books through crowdfunding including The Wild Cosmos, Slightly Exaggerated, and Majestic. In total, he has 13 fully-funded Kickstarter campaigns.

With Dark Horse comics distributing Beastslands, the trade paperback will include issues 1 through 5. It will be available in comic stores on July 20, 2022 and on Amazon and traditional book stores on July 26, 2022.

Synopsis: Beastlands is an action-adventure story set in a beautiful medieval fantasy world, where people have companion beasts known as “Keepers”. Three teenage friends, Mac, Ava and Ping, are on a journey to find out what Mac’s father, an explorer, was trying to discover before he disappeared. On this quest, their friendships will be put to the test all while a tyrannical King looks to outlaw Keepers from the land.

The comic is written by Curtis Clow with art by Jo Mi-Gyeong (Eve and The Dark Crystal), and lettering by Toben Racicot.

Nerd Reactor had the chance to chat with Clow about Beastlands and his successful Kickstarter campaigns.

Your background in comics, how did that start?

Curtis Clow: I just always wanted to do something creative, and then I think I fell in love with comics. I was in my late teens/early 20s. And then I just knew it would be comics. Comics were the medium of choice. I’m just completely self-taught. I don’t have a degree in writing or anything, and I just started making comics. You kind of learn from your craft as you keep going. That’s when I first launched my first Kickstarter back in like 2017, and now I’m on my 15th Kickstarter. So just over the years I have built up an audience and kept getting better at my craft. I have four creator-owned series now. Plus some like freelance writing.

What is the inspiration to keep on pumping out these stories?

I guess it’s ambition. I love it. You have to love it. It’s a grind when you’re first starting. You have to have a day job and do it on the side. I’ve been doing it full-time for about three years now. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m making enough on Kickstarter and enough with freelance work. And now with this Dark Horse deal with Beastlands coming out, I make enough to survive and make a living doing it. But you have to love it. You can’t go into trying to make money and trying to get famous or anything. Comics is a grind and it’s definitely a long game. And I love telling stories. I love all my stories with these weird fantasy worlds, these weird twists and stuff, and sci-fi. It’s just what I’m into. I guess I’m just always thinking about it, just obsessed almost.

What was the process for collaborating with Dark Horse like? What caught their eye with this one?

Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, it has beautiful art so it’s a lot easier. It makes my job a lot easier when you’re working with an amazing artist and co-creator Jo [Mi-Gyeong]. Her art style is just beautiful that draws in a lot of people. I guess Beastlands is probably my most popular series on Kickstarter. We usually hit 1000 backers. That’s what you want to hit to have a really good successful Kickstarter. If you hit 1000, then you’re good to go. Beastlands is probably my series that grew the fastest, and we’ve done the most Kickstarters for it. So they reached out back before the pandemic. It’s a deal we had in the works for a while. And we have issues one through five done, so their deal is to just repackage it and put out the trade paperback and we’re going to still keep Kickstarting single issues after.

There’s music for Beastlands. How does that work?

It was pretty crazy. It’s not anything I ever imagined, like having a soundtrack for one of my comics. It’s not something you hear often, especially as a small indie creator. But the composer, Nolan, reached out to me. He’s actually from the same area in Orange County. And he sold these things on Kickstarter and was interested in making a theme song. I collaborated with him, telling my influences from Studio Ghibli and a lot of like video game soundtracks, anime soundtracks and stuff.

So we worked together on it and made a really awesome theme song. And I got a crazy reaction from our fans, and everybody loved it. So then we put out a survey if people would be interested in backing a Kickstarter for a full music soundtrack. A lot of people were really interested. So we did that this past February, and it was funded on Kickstarter. We’re still working on it. It should be done in a few months. We’ll have a CD, and we’ll have a digital download. We’re doing a limited release of vinyls for the full soundtrack. It’s just really cool. Just random and cool.

What was the inspiration for Beastlands? Did you have a pet, like a pet dog or cat?

That’s pretty much exactly it. My dog. I have a dog named Ellie. She’s a little beagle. She’s six now. She got hit by a car back in 2016, but she survived. It was a pretty traumatic thing where I had to carry it home. I thought she was dying in my arms at the time. We had to take her to the vet. We weren’t sure if she was going to make it. Luckily, she pulled through and made a full recovery. She was 100% now, but that was a pretty traumatic thing. And I really use that as inspiration for Beastlands. And I just knew I wanted to try to fit that and write a story about it. That’s definitely the heart of Beastlands. It’s kind of like human and pet bond and relationship. As a writer, you want your stories to have meaning and have deeper themes. I always try to pull from personal experiences if I can and put it into a story. You hit it right on the nose. It is definitely a personal experience for Beastlands.

What was the inspiration for the Evil King? How do we make this person and feel sorry for him. What happened to his family?

Yeah, I don’t know. I have fun writing villains where you want them to be relatable, and you want to see it from their point of view. Maybe from their point of view, they don’t think they’re these evil people. But obviously, from the outside view, they are pretty bad. You see him get worse, but it’s just fun to write villains and try to make them relatable. You can maybe see it from their eyes, even if they go too far, but you see how he deals with grief. And he’s almost a mirror character to the main character, Mac, where Mac is looking for his father. Meanwhile, the king lost his daughter in an accident with his Keeper. We call the beasts the companion peacekeepers. And you see how he deals with that in a completely different way from Mac, where he just goes full evil and wants to execute all the beasts.

Since you’ve been doing this in 2017, what’s the one thing that you have learned or one takeaway for doing these Kickstarter projects?

Oh, man, I’ve learned a ton. I have 15th Kickstarters live right now for different series. But I guess starting small. If you’re going to launch your first Kickstarter, I started really small. And I built up the audience over the years like my first Kickstarter was for a few 100 bucks. And my first, my next one after that, my first format, and the first issue of my first series. The goal was 5000. We hit our goal within a matter of hours usually. It just takes time and you have to be patient. You’re not going to make a living writing comics just starting. Really takes those years of building up that audience and staying consistent.

And you have to get your audience to trust you. I’m at the point where I can launch multiple projects and maybe they haven’t even got the rewards yet for the other project and I can still launch one for a new series because my audience really trust me. They know the quality of my books, they know my stories, they know I’m going to deliver it to them. I’m not going to leave my backers hanging because yeah, this is how I get this. It’s how I make my living. If I don’t send them the rewards, I’m just ruining my career myself.

Is there a set routine when you’re in creative mode? What’s the thing that gets you to like block out any outside interference?

Some good music. I even listen to our own soundtrack sometimes or theme song and stuff. When I’m doing some writing, I’ll get some good coffee or some some good tea, some headphones and put on some good soundtracks. It has to be music without words for me to really get in that creative zone and then shut the doors and try to get in the zone where I’m just letting my imagination go. Then if I’m ever getting writer’s block or anything, I feel like doing something physical like take the dog for a walk and listening to some music or something like doing something physical will help put your mind to that place.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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