Give The People What They Want: The Malcolm Harris Interview

A column article by: Park Cooper

Now, before today's interview, it's time once again to explain to you people about Picaresque.

It's a novel. Barbara and I wrote it.

It's a work of comedic fantasy-- you know, it's funny, it's magical--and yet, it's also a sometimes-touching tale of some people coming to grips with what they're really supposed to be doing with their lives, and how they're supposed to be doing it.

We still want a literary agent. This isn't remotely the only (prose) novel we've written. We want a real publisher and all of that jazz. But while three years or so ago agents disliked you self-publishing, digital or otherwise, readers like those who use the Kindle and other devices have turned things around, and now it's seen as kind of a gutsy thing to do. So we're doing it. Come and get it.

I have given Wicker Man webmaster Ryan Howe three versions to be sold straight from our website, but while he works on that: are you people aware that you can also read Kindle books not only on a Kindle, not only on your smartphones and pads and pods, but also on your computer itself and Chrome and pretty much anything else? Here are some links:

This one's about reading in the Cloud (or, you know, have a Mac or whatever):

Here's the one for if you just use Chrome:

Here's the one if you just own a PC computer that runs Windows:

If you run Linux, let me know, I think there's one for that, too.

Okay, back to the book itself. Here's that site again:

Okay, thank you for your consideration.

And now, on with our column ("Yes! On with our column!")

Malcolm Harris writes comics and role-playing games. In fact, he's got his own little company for that stuff. I met him because we're both friends of Drew Edwards, creator of the comic Halloween Man. Then I interviewed him.

Park Cooper: Okay, first of all, tell me exactly what you do at your company.

Malcolm Harris: The better question is, what I don't do. I'm the editor and chief , chief creator, writer, marketing.

PC: Okay... who else is there besides you?

MH: My trusty Art Director, Abby Soto, Editor, Emily Foster and Writer Sean Hanson
That's channel M. Plus a lot of Freelancers

PC: And how long has the company been in business?

MH: two years

PC: What were you (personally) doing before that?

MH: I was a game designer for a company called Maximum CNG and an in house Tech support manager at AT&T.

PC: How did you decide to start Channel M? And how'd you pick that name?

MH: I decided to start it when I saw an opening in the table top RPG market no one was exploiting and I picked it because I saw it in my mind as imagination station. And I'm Malcolm so Channel M

PC: Oops, one more past-history question-- how did you come to be the game designer for Maximum CNG in the first place? Was this video games or other games?

MH: It was table top RPGs and it was basically a group of friends wanting to make RPGs. Lots of talent but very little know how on the production end.

PC: Talk about the niche no one was filling.

MH: Ahhh, Table top RPGs for girls ages 11+

PC: Ah ha. How did you know you could fill that gap?

MH: You have a demographic who has proven to be financially strong, vocal and have a love for fantasy and si fi and no one cared. Someone had too and I started doing research staring with my niece, friends and a lot of ladies who at one time was that 11 year old gorl who wished she had a game for her and her friends. And then actual market research based on girls, movies, mangas and comics.

If you've ever been to an anime convention, a big one and you see girls outnumber guys you have to wonder. Why are those kids not gaming? And you realize because Table top RPG's tend to, but not always tend to be made by male elitist pricks who rather see the industry die than to take some risk and change the way things are done.

PC: So what was your background in manga and comics before Channel M started?

MH: I had written a few comics, screenplays. I've worked in comic book store a few years out of college.

PC: What store?

MH: The Book Store I worked for? Keith Comics.

PC: Sure, I know Keith's. Did those comics see print?

MH: Yeah they did.

PC: Are you from the Dallas area originally?

MH: Yes I am. from Dallas.

PC: Who published them?

MH: Self Published

PC: What were the titles?

MH: The Comics Witch Girls and Witch Girls Tales.

PC: Okay... So I think now it's time to talk about Channel M's projects. Tell me about them/plug 'em.

MH: Witch Girls Adventures is our big game and currently in print. It's a table top rpg aimed at girls 11+ where the make a witch character and send her on various adventures.

Macho: Last Action Hero is another table top RPG, a tribute to 80's action movies. with all the physics defying sexist, racist crazy that went along with it (It's our first an only game aimed at athe 17+ crowd).

Channel M is publishing Witch Girls related comics including our best seller Princess Lucinda. It's the story of an evil magic princess exiled to earth and her plotting and to get back home and get revenge on the forces of good that killed her parent. Think of her as a reverse Disney Princess.

Right now we're working on two new RPG rule books, more comics and two animated series pitches.

2012 is going to be a big year as we bring our Superhero Universe to the forefront.

PC: Will the new books be related to the projects you have already, or brand new?

MH: Witch Girls: Book of shadows will be an update of the Witch Girls books to bring them in line with our Fantasy game DDF and our Superhero Game Nemesis-Remix:

PC: To whom will you be pitching the animated projects? What demographic will the superhero universe be aimed at?

MH: The Animation projects will be pitched to networks in The US, UK and Canada. I can't say more that that. The Super Hero Universe is Pg13. And Its aimed more at comic readers and fans who don't know about table top rpgs instead of already established RPG fans who happen to read comics.

PC: Any particular gender slant one way or the other?

MH: No, not at all. In fact If anything its more about diversity than gender. But even that's not the main point of marketing. They main point is getting kids who should be gaming back into it.

PC: Okay, let's get more personally general. Do you still read comics? What about manga?

MH: I'm not a big manga fan. I used to read them. But growing up you realize there isn't much of a difference between comics and manga other than manga tends to exploit more genres than comics.

PC: "Growing up?" My goodness, we didn't have manga when I was growing up... I've never heard anyone say it like that before. Anyway, what manga did you read?

MH: Growing up in the 80's I would get a hold original untranslated Manga like Voltoms, Macross and giant robot stuff.

Anyway, I'm a big Marvel fan. and some Vertigo. and indies. I support my brothers.

PC: Oh, that comment is a good way for us to get a mutual plug in: How did you happen to discover the existence of Halloween Man?

MH: I was there when Halloween Man was born. Drew Edwards is an old friend of mine. I was running a Super Hero RPG game for Drew and some buddies and Drew created Halloween man. I guess you can say I'm Halloween's man Crazy uncle. And I'm really proud of Halloween man.

PC: So wait, do I gather that Halloween Man was born as an RPG character somewhat? I don't think I've ever heard that... Man, just like George R.R.Martin’s Wild Cards series.

MH: Yes he was he was Drew's character.

PC: How do you find people for playtesting RPGs?

MH: I usually just ask. Witch Girls had made that easy. I have a half dozen groups for that and they are open to other things. And I have my own group of gamers I've been playing with for almost a decade. My group consists of a variety of styles, males, females and people who love RPGs, they call themselves Pro RPG players because they are the people who turn a boring game at a convention into a real experience. I'll put them against any table top RPG group on the planet and bet the farm, lol

PC: What do you think about what DC's trying with (the current) 52?

MH: Do you really want to know?

PC: Sure!?!

MH: Because it won't be pretty

PC: Sure, go ahead, get as ugly about it as you want, you don’t scare me

MH: DC has seen the writing on the wall. They see their characters are outdated, boring and pretty much good for only selling socks, underwear and t-shirts. So what do they do? They try to marvelize everything in the safest way possible. They throw 52 piles of crap against the wall to see what sticks and I say this and I have friends at DC. Will it work...? I hope it does, but from what I see, it’s still the same backwards, racist, sexist DC we know and love.

PC: New question: What are you doing that's leading to success that other indie comics and/or indie RPG companies aren't doing?

MH: We're not afraid of failure. Fear of failure is the biggest dream killer in the universe.

We also try to know our fan base and give them what they want.

PC: And, so far, what have they wanted that you didn't know they'd want until you got to know them?

MH: With RPGs it’s a matter of admitting there is a problem. The RPG industry depends on getting new people into table top RPG's not scalping old players for their hard earned money.

RPG players always want more stuff, more information on your world. What you think is minutia is gold to them.

Also the thing I suspected and was told is new RPG players hate crap characters. They want to start the game a badass and rise up from there

PC: How do you balance that in a game?

MH: That's easy. You build a game where the starting place is the middle. Where heroes, like characters in movies, video games and TV are exceptional people, not average shmucks. Look at the Street Fighter video game. The characters are powerful and kick butt, no one wants to play Ryu when he was getting beat up by bullies, they want to play him when he can lay entire shadow corporations to waste.

You make a game where characters are challenged, where characters’ lives are more than just combat and where they still have things they can still achieve. We live in a world where people want instant gratification; with a table top RPG you give the illusion of that at character creation.

PC: And what did they tell you they wanted in the comics?

MH: They want characters they either want to be like or characters more like them.

The same 1950s’ morality, beliefs and government loyalty that comics wrote about doesn't exist now. Yet comics are still written that way.

They want characters that look like them, too. Being a minority, that's something I understand.

PC: How often do your comics come out?

MH: We're a small company, so I think “when we can” covers that. But we're trying for more often now, lol

PC: What Vertigo comics did you like back in the day?

MH: I was big in Jonah Hex, Sandman, and Preacher. Right now it’s just Fables.

PC: So walk me through an average workday for you. What sort of stuff are you doing?

MH: I wake up and start work at about 9. Recently that includes working a lot of Nemesis-Remix and DDF. I then Talk to some freelancers, bounce some ideas off the head of the staffers. Work a script and get done at about 10pm. That's every day. 12+ hour days.

And yes I do stop to eat and about mid day I do my daily exercise but even when I'm walking in the Texas heat I'm thinking about projects.

PC: “Work a script?” Doesn't that lead to quite a script backlog, as art never catches up to writing?

MH: And I like it that way. I'm usually 6 or so scripts ahead of artist

PC: Any tips on selling PDF product?

MH: Yes. Do it. PDF sells are easy money for indie companies. Diamond and other distributors tend to need you to print thousands of books get picked up but PDF has a diverse fan base and its cheap.

Also I suggest Amazon Kindle.

PC: What are you selling via the Kindle store?

MH: Witch Girls Adventures and Princess Lucinda

PC: How does one format comics to sell via Kindle?

MH: Format in True grey scale, is all we really do.

Kindle is one of those things I don't understand why more indies are not doing it

PC: I think part of it is that they don't understand how.

Another part might be that they are too color-dependent.

But for the record, what do you save the files as, jpgs?

MH: I save as Tiff to PDF. High Rez PDF. I think us Indie guys need to communicate more and stop being afraid we're taking each others’ money, lol

PC: Any other purely technical tips?

MH: Not of the top of my head. Other than it was a lot easier than I thought when it came to the Kindle

PC: All righty... any marketing tips? You've got these Kindle and pdf products... how do you get people to not let them fall through the cracks?

MH: Ahh my favorite part. Get the word out. Put together a press kit, go to lots of conventions, do interviews. Do whatever you can to get the word out. Heck for Witch Girls we had people handing out fliers at the opening of the twilight films and concerts I wouldn't be caught dead at.

Go where your demographic is and let them know you exist. Most small companies think a good product will get them fans....It might but 99.9% of the times it won't. But Marketing can make a bad product sell and a good product soar. Things don't fall through the cracks if people know they exist.

PC: Okay, anything else to plug before we finish?

MH: Yeah three things, Nemesis -Remix is coming 4th quarter 2012 save up your money

Not only should you be reading My comic Princess Lucinda but the Underburbs comic and war of the Independents.

Underburbs is a great indie comic by two great indie creators and War of the Independents is like Secret Wars for Indie creators.

And that's it.

PC: All righty then

MH: And I guess the moral of this story is: Indie publishers should support each other.

Next time: How YOU can help Phil Hartman

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