[Ed. Note: this headline was updated at the request of the interviewer.]
You might not be able to tell from the picture above, but Ulises Fariñas is a man who wears many hats. Artist, writer, creator-owned, work-for-hire, and now editor for Buño, the Magnetic Press imprint that Fariñas founded with publisher Storme Smith. Rafael Gaitan sat down with Fariñas back in July before the launch of Buño’s first wave of books to pick the young creator’s brain on his publishing philosophy and the real differences between work-for-hire and creator-owned.
Rafael Gaitan for Comics Bulletin: With [this] new imprint, what made you decide now is the time to do it?
Ulises Fariñas: It was more of a confluence of… I guess confluence isn’t the right word… Me and Storme were talking about working on books together and it was kind of we just had the opportunity to do it and you just have to do it when you can do it. I got all these other books that I’m working on and I always wanted to start a publisher. So I could do it now and maybe it will fail, but the earlier I try, the longer I have to fix those mistakes.
CB: This is your first attempt at trying to start a publishing company, correct?
CB: You’ve been a freelance guy, you’ve been under contract. With starting this imprint for yourself, what are some of the challenges you… expected or didn’t expect?
Fariñas: Right now, the challenge is ‘How do I get people to buy this book?’ All these books come out every year. They say they got their politics and what they believe in, when it comes to what they want to buy, but frequently, they just kind of keep buying the stuff they’ve been buying. They keep supporting the same artists. They keep supporting the same writers, the same publishers, regardless of how far away that is from making things better in comics. So right now, the challenge is getting people to put their money where their mouth is and support small press, support people of color making comics.
CB: Now, I’ve wanted to ask you this as well. You’re partnered with Storme Smith. What percentage would you say, partner-wise, is he contributing to getting this launched?
Fariñas: It doesn’t really split in a specific way. It’s almost like an onion. There’s Storme and then there’s me and you go towards the core over what kind of books do we want to make. We go over the pitches together. We go over the books. We go over the art. We make the business decisions together. I’m good at working with people and talking to people, so that’s how I focus. That’s how it’s been so far.
CB: So obviously you’re showing a different side of yourself by transitioning to a writer role as well. You’ve been currently writing the IDW Judge Dredd with Eric Freitas as well. Is that a transition you’ve been wanting to make for your whole career or is it a newfound one? Do you want to be known as Ulises Farinas the writer and artist? Or do you want to… Where is that gonna take you?
Fariñas: It’s strange because in comics, you’re so compartmentalized. If you’re a cartoonist, and people only look at you as someone who comes up with ideas… Even though as an artist, you are designing and figuring out all the story decisions from the script that the writer had just kind of suggested. I think there’s a hierarchy in comics where writers are treated better and given more respect. I’ve been a writer since the beginning.
Before I was making money making comics, I was always writing my own stories. I was doing Amazing Forest –which is coming out with IDW. I’ve been writing Judge Dredd for the last year and a half, now. I’ve always come at it as a writer. I’ve made most of my money from writing, but to actually get the industry to be flexible and shift to ‘Oh, this person is writing more versus drawing more.’ That has been where I’ve transitioned. Almost pushing this narrative: ‘Look, I write. I write. I write. I write.’ And a lot of it is they don’t want new writers. They have the writers, and because it’s a more prestigious position, it’s harder to be taken seriously as one.
CB: On that note, considering that you want to make that transition and you want the industry to recognize that, do you plan on leaving the art industry behind?
Fariñas: No. There shouldn’t be a separation. That separation, I think, comes from a lot writers who are just failed artists. There’s a lot of writers who, if you look at their career, their first indie comic, they try to draw it themselves and they’re terrible at it. It ends up sucking if you’re not terrible at drawing, you just get pigeonholed into this smaller category. It’s almost this kind of vindictive thing, ‘I couldn’t draw all of my own comics, so I’ll make sure that they can never rise to my own position.’
CB: You’re right.
Fariñas: It’s true! Look at how many writers today that tried to draw their own books and couldn’t do it.
CB: For Buño, you start with these first three books. Do you have anything else in the works? Do you have anything that’s finalized that you can talk about or want to bring out or more of your projects on the imprint?
Fariñas: I’m working with another small press person and I’m kind of at a position where I would like Buño to be a co-op of small press people trying to work together. So, collectively, they can be represented under one name and they can stand toe to toe with larger companies. When you have something like Image, which started off as an indie publisher, it’s not close at all to call it an indie publisher anymore. Especially when it has the number one TV show in the nation. It really doesn’t make sense to say ‘Big Two and Image,’ No, it’s Big Three. There’s nothing right now… That’s not to say I’m trying to replace Image or try to compete with them, but there’s nothing right now that’s really small scale and also so diverse but at the same time can have that reach.
CB: So is that what you’re going for? More of [a] collective? A little bit bigger scale but still on a smaller scale?
Fariñas: A little bit on a bigger scale. Small publishers who are putting out their books that are still fairly reachable. How do you get outside of just selling to indie press people? How do you get into comic shops around the United States? I think it makes more sense to be united as one group rather than fifty different small press people and you don’t really know what you’re getting. I know Diamond has its indie section. And even within that, you can make your own indie section in the industry itself.
CB: Absolutely. Do you have a limitation of your vision of it? For example, right now you’re publishing a fantasy book, a science fiction book… Really, mostly fantasy and sci-fi horror. Do you envision this imprint being focused in that direction or do you think it’s going to open up to whatever you recognize as good work?
Fariñas: I have no limitation on that. That’s why Buño is a made up word. There’s no genre or anything we’re trying to stick to. It’s just, do we like what it looks like? Okay, then we can do it.
CB: Because you’re a person of color working in the industry, how do you think you are either representing or looking to represent people of color in your own work?
Fariñas: Not being afraid. Not being shy about putting it forward. It’s like, only white people can pretend that their race doesn’t matter to them, so only white people can make a whole team of white people and make books one after another after another after another and it doesn’t matter. And only white people tend to make books about brown people and then all of a sudden, it matters. So why do they get to have the sole domain on making people of color? How many books that are at Marvel, where they now have their diversity checklist of every character now? ‘We’re gonna have our black Spider-Man, we’re gonna have our black Iron Man, we’re gonna have our… O-oh wait, wait… Spider-Man’s also Puerto Rican, but we’re never gonna discuss that because I don’t know what Puerto Rican people are like.’ That’s what it is. I’ve never read Miles Morales and never seen any element of him being Latino.
That whole approach is only because we only have a few people writing the same stories. I’m a person of color and I’m going to say I’m going to make people of color comics and the fucked up thing is when I say I’m going to do it, now it’s political. But when say, Brian Michael Bendis is doing it, now it’s progress. So I’m the one who is making waves and I’m the one complaining, but I’m just saying ‘No, I just want to make money.’ *laughs* If someone is going to be making money off of this, I want our creators to make that money. Put that shit back in our community. So I just think if there’s one approach, that’s what it is. The unabashedly proud, ‘These are the books we wanna do’ and the economically invested. We just want to make our dollars off the brown people too. Everyone else has. *laughs* Shit’s fucked up.
CB: Since you’re going to be the decision maker at Buño, as it grows, do you think that’s going to influence you at all in terms of decision-making of what you bring into the imprint? Are you going to try to focus in that direction or are you going to remain more open minded of… Something that a collaborator once said, that ‘Talent should come first.’
Fariñas: Talent’s bullshit. Talent never comes first. *laughs* You know? And once again, it’s only white people that believe that their race is just a non -issue. That’s the only time that that happens. You’re telling me that talent comes first when you go to a convention and you see white guy after white guy after white guy who’s a writer getting promoted in one year after only having one year in comics? You’re telling me race wasn’t an issue? No, it’s because they look the same and that’s how you gain friends right away. All that stuff. They have the same background. And it’s only people of color that are being asked these questions. Why aren’t you putting talent first? And I’m like, no, none of them put talent first. When we meet someone, race, if you’re a person of color, is at top of your brain all the time. You have to live with that and it’s inconvenient. But you know it’s there and only white people get be like ‘Well I’m just being colorblind when I’m casting these books.’ And the question on the whole is predicated on the fact that we have a racist industry.
To add something to that, say right now, I’ve been really straight up about with Buño, we don’t have any women in our books. That’s a problem. We don’t have any besides me, and I don’t want to speak for anyone else, there’s no queer people making our books. And there’s only two books! So how much can you cover if you can’t fix it? But at the same time, I’m still responsible for those decisions whether it’s one book or two books or fifty books. So our other publishers, but you have to be straightforward and say I am responsible for that and that’s always a factor and not be like, ‘Oh, I just care about the talent.’ That’s just a cop-out.
CB: That leads me into the next question I wanted to ask you, which you kind of went into right now, is that we’ve discussed persons of color but how do you feel about, on your level as a creator and in the industry, the representation of non-binaries, genders and fluidity and such?
Fariñas: I’m not sure if I’m the right person to speak on that. I’m binary. I don’t really have a very… a lived experience. That’s one of the things, when I care about diversity, I don’t just care about my diversity. I want the people who make these books to have lived experiences for the books that they’re making. So whoever is doing work or making books at Buño, I want to force the books you make, I think it’s best because of what you’ve lived through, what you’ve seen. The life you’ve had. And I think it resonates even more clearly when you’re writing characters that are similar to you.
CB: I think I might have the answer to this but, considering that you do freelance work and you’re opening your own imprint, do you see yourself permanently transitioning away from… that kind of contract work for major companies?
CB: You think you’re always gonna leave that door open?
Fariñas: I’m always… It’s just work. One of the biggest bullshits in our industry is the separation of work-for-hire and creator-owned. That’s all it is. It’s just a different economic plan of selling your idea. Eventually you do lose control. Whether it’s by death, which is 70 years after, you know you lose your copyright 70 years after your death. It’s gonna go. Or you lose it immediately upon creation, which is work-for-hire. But the idea that you can own these ideas forever and that they really belong to you, that’s bullshit. That’s another way that writers assert their superiority over cartoonists because how many cartoonists who are just artists, who have to take for hire work all the time?
And how many writers are living in luxury, so to speak, with their creator-owned projects and lecturing to everyone about how creator-owned is how you should be working for everyone. And I’m like, ‘For real? You don’t have to pay bills, bro. You’re living off some fat checks here. And how much work did you put in? You can write a whole script in a day. And you’re telling me a cartoonist who has to take a whole month, at the minimum, to do a whole issue, that they should do creator-owned too?’ Nah, work-for-hire for life.