Fabian Rangel Jr is a pioneer in the world of independent comics having self-published the first volume of “Doc Unknown” on Comixology submit, he proves to be an inspiration for the little guy. Doc is a pulpy noir centered on the titular protagonist. He’s dynamically interesting as he defends a very strange city from every machination of pulp tradition you can think of creating a consistent and impressive indie title that oozes heart.
Recently Fabian took to Kickstarter to crowdfund a one shot that featured one the Doc Unknown’s main antagonist’s Boss Snake. After that campaign was a resounding success, Rangel and his artist Ryan Cody have taken to Kickstarter again to generate funding for Volume Two of Doc Unknown. The outcome was fully funding the project in a mere three days, but the effort didn’t come easy. It was the result of a tremendous amount of work.
So hit the jump to hear all about this insanely inspiring project. How to find an audience, how to publish an indie comic, and the best way to pursue crowd funding for a comic you’re passionate about.
Bloody Disgusting: Introduce Doc Unknown for the uninitiated.
Fabian Rangel JR: Doc Unknown is a supernatural action adventure series. Kind of like a cross between Batman The Animated Series and Hellboy. It introduces a new pulp hero and the city he defends where a lot of strange stuff happens on a nightly basis. The first volume introduces him, and the second volume is all about having fun in his world.
BD: Where did the inspiration for Doc Unknown come from?
FRJR: I had been making comics for three years and it was very financially draining. I wasn’t sure if I could keep it up. I decided to do one more, and I thought about what type of comic I wanted to do more than anything. I wanted to do a mashup of Batman: The Animated Series, Hellboy, and Planetary. Which are my three favorite things. It was all or nothing with Doc Unknown.
FRJR: I wanted to do something with all sorts of weird stuff. I made a list of things I wanted to see. I tossed as much crazy stuff in as I could think of. I didn’t want to get ridiculous. Like there are no nuns shooting machine guns, and zombies. I try to keep to things that still fit within this world.
BD: Why Kickstarter? Why Comics? Why Self-Publish?
FRJR: When I was 11-13 I first saw an issue of Thor at a convenience store. I had read mythology growing up so I had recognized Thor, and I was like “what, what’s this!?” I’d buy a comic every now and then, and then in middle school I had a teacher who told me I could write. I didn’t know that was a thing that not everybody could do. I started writing all the time. I told people I wanted to be a writer. But once high school came along, music took over. Throughout my twenties I was in bands, going on tour, putting out albums. When I was turning thirty that stopped and I still needed a creative outlet. I had got back into reading comics in 2003, so I tried writing comics. I always enjoyed writing, and comics were my favorite things to read. I just wanted to see if I could do it.
I got this job, and started to have a disposable income. So I hired artists. The first book I ever did was “Extinct.” Which was a werewolf comic that was published with 215 Ink. I self published the first two volumes of “Extinct” totally on my own in black and white. By the time the third one was about to be released, I had got it colored and submitted it to 215. They picked it up and I did two other books with them. I was still self-publishing little anthologies on the side. I was consistent with self-publishing. Doc Unknown is definitely the most popular thing I’ve done. Seeing Ryan draw my scripts is a total pleasure.
I didn’t think I could do a Kickstarter. With Doc Unknown it was perfect timing. We got the book on Comixology submit, number one came out in March which was when they launched submit. I saw more people adding me on Twitter and Facebook telling me they liked the book. I can’t quit my job and pay my bills because of the book but my fanbase definitely grew. Once volume one was all done I had the idea to do a Boss Snake kickstarter. We set the bare minimum, just to cover for art. I knew that if I could pull off Boss Snake then that’d be how I made comics in the future. Luckily it went to 300% funded. I still had money out of pocket cause I got carried away with stretch goals. Kickstarter is cool though, because there are people on there that I don’t even know. A whole group who just uses the site to fund things, it’s a preorder system that pays for the art.
FRJR: That’s the first thing you do. The Pitch. If no one wants to do it, and you believe in the project go to Kickstarter. I did pitch Doc Unknown. I either got straight up rejected or straight up ignored. It was really surprising to me. Since I thought Doc Unknown was the home run. I believed that if I actually got it done there would be an audience there and I believe that turned out to be correct.
BD: How did the “Five Ghosts” backups happen?
FJR: I started reading “Five Ghosts” because I saw it in Previews and thought it looked cool. Plus the guy’s name is Fabian. I met Frank (Barbiere) at HeroesCon, he saw my name and recognized Doc Unknown. He had the first two issues, and we compared notes. We had a connection where we were both writing a pulp book. He had been doing comics for eight years, and talked about how hard it is. He had a really good year last year, and this year. Our common ground lead us to talking about a Doc Unknown ad in “Five Ghosts” and a couple hours later I suggested a backup and he was totally into it. I think fans of either book will like the other.
BD: What is it about pulpy noir that interests you the most?
FRJR: I feel like the stuff that happens in these books isn’t possible in 2014. The mystery aspect of our lives is taken away by technology. Something that happens in the 30’s and 40’s could have magic. I like to think that stuff like this could have happened back then. Now everything is explained, we now know there are no such thing as monsters in the traditional sense. I think that era is right on the verge of unreality and reality. World War Two has always been appealing to me, and prohibition era violence. It’s all real dark and happening in the shadows, which makes it really appealing to me.
FRJR: Doc Unknown is completely outlined. When I first started the plan was four issues and that’d be it. When you read the first volume it ends but you can definitely see how there could be more. The Boss Snake one shot showed that we can keep this going. I thought “What can I realistically get away with?” I could write a hundred issues of Doc Unknown, I don’t think people will give a shit after issue 30. Right now, we have a thousand readers at best. So I think I can tell the story I want to tell, and have people support it at 12 issues. Kind of like a movie trilogy. Each volume will be four issues, and I’ve never done multiple volumes of a comic before. I really like series that end. I like Planetary because it ended, Y The Last Man, I love books with a definite beginning, middle, and end.
BD: Very few people pursue one project throughout multiple Kickstarters, and your key strength is building your audience.
FRJR: To fund the first four issues I ended up getting a loan from my bank, a loan from my retirement plan, actually two. Two maxed out credit cards, I hustled and found more ways to get money to get this book out on time. We did whatever we could to self publish under a bi-monthly schedule. Some big companies don’t even stick to something like that. I wanted to show the people reading my book we were a reliable team. I think that was one of the reasons our first Kickstarter was so successful. We delivered on time. With the exception of some of the international orders, everyone got their stuff in December. Three months later we’re back on Kickstarter, which was a gamble. I think we’ve shown that we know what we’re doing. We have a lot of repeat people funding us. But, we have a ton of people who are funding us at the level where they get the first volume. It makes me really happy.
BD: What can you tell me about Doc Unknown Volume Two?
FRJR: Volume Two is a little more comprised of standalone adventures. First up we’ve got the backups from “Five Ghosts.” Then Ryan (Cody) approached me. He has his own story he wrote and drew. He tried to sell himself to me, and he’s the other half. I totally trust him. He’s got a Batman Beyond type story in there, it’s really cool. We’re including Doc Unknown #5, that’s half the book. Then we have Doc Unknown and the Frequency of Fear. A 32 page issue that will show what he’s doing now and the lead up to volume three. Planting seeds and introduces a new villain who is a major threat for Doc. He’s a totally crazy guy who likes to destroy. I really stepped up the action. Then we conclude with Songs of the Forgotten. It’s definitely more influenced by stuff like Planetary. I’m having fun with new characters and different aspects of the story. All this leads up to volume three which will hopefully hit Kickstarter in the fall.
BD: You’ve been quite the pioneer when it comes to digital publishing, do you still do print copies of your books?
FRJR: I definitely still do print on demand. I’ve used various printers. When did the first volume, I’d print a few hundred of each issue and sell them at conventions or on my bigcartel site. Single issues self-published are really hard to make your money back. Digital has made Doc Unknown way more available to people. It’s more convenient. Trades sell way better though, it’s everything you need in one book, and it looks good on a bookshelf.
BD: What advice do you have for Indie Self-Publishers.
FRJR: Be prepared to lose money and face rejection. Try not to let it get to you. Realize you can do anything. Do something that makes you happy and most of all do you. Once you get a book together submit it to Comixology submit. As far as Kickstarter I would say wait. Until you have a couple books under your belt and have a bigger audience. You need to build an audience where you can pull something like that off. Be reliable, do what you say your going to do.
You can find the kickstarter for Doc Unknown Volume 2 here.
Check it out and throw it your hard earned cash. The campaign may have been funded in three days but it can still use all the support anyone is willing to give it.
You’ll be able to find Fabian at Emerald City Comic Con at Table P1. Where you’ll be able to pick the first trade of Doc Unknown and the Boss Snake one shot.