In this first installment of a series featuring Space Goat Productions we sit down with long time writer and President of Space Goat, Shon C. Bury. In this interview we get an exciting look into what it takes to be a known talent within the industry. Shon provides us with variety of perspectives on the industry as well as some insight for people looking for their big break.
Coming soon, we’ll be bringing you interviews with multiple artists on the Space Goat roster (listed below).
Alex Rodrik: Let’s give our readers a nice run down on who Shon C. Bury is. What drew you to comics and how’d you get started in the business?
Shon C. Bury: I grew up surrounded by comics, so they very quickly became an integral part of my life. I started showing some aptitude as a writer and artist (my mother was an artist) in preadolescence, so I knew very early on that what I wanted most was a life in comics. I paid for my first year of college with a Fine Arts Scholarship, but quickly realized that what I wanted to do was write — not just comics, but definitely comics.
By the time I was 20 — still in college — I started submitting mountains of story proposals to DC and WildStorm; among other publishers. I got my first break at DC, writing one of the features for ShowCase’95. I quickly spun that into a five-issue miniseries for WildStorm, Black Ops. I co-created Black Ops with Jim Lee and Dan Norton. I was 22-years-old, sitting in Jim Lee’s La Jolla office creating an intellectual property… My brain was numb…
I worked regularly as a freelance writer for the next six or seven years, writing for DC, WildStorm, Acclaim, Marvel… I wrote regular superhero stuff like Superman Adventures, Impulse, Cable, Power Pack, as well as licensed properties and adaptations like Turok: Oblivion (adapted from the video game) and Micronuats. I also co-created NIO with Joe (Wolverine vs. Venom) St. Pierre for Acclaim. NIO was a great project about an AI samurai robot chick. How do you hate that?
I got most of my work during the crash, which in retrospect is just silly. By 2001 I was getting pretty burnt out and had some life handed to me that forced me to focus on other things besides comics.
Fast forward to 2005, and I was ready to get back in the game. But the game had changed. A lot.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to become a professional proposal writer for Marvel and DC again, so I decided to focus on some creator-owned properties that I had sitting on the shelf. Nox was the first project I dusted off.
AR: What can you tell us about Nox?
SCB: Nox is my first original graphic novel. 128-pages of urban-fantasy road-tripping and sarcasm — and my study of Joseph Campbell’s Hero Cycle. Basically, it’s Clerks meets LoTR (Lord of the Rings). It’s a self-aware low-fantasy about a Comparative Mythology grad student, Joey King, who finds himself traveling along the Hero Cycle.
Along with his sarcastic and incredulous sidekick, Joey encounters wise men and mystical creatures, fights demons, receives a boon from the White Goddess, and stops the world from being destroyed by ultimate evil. Good times.
It can be pre-ordered on the Nox website for $19.99.
AR: Tell us about Space Goat Productions…
SCB:Space Goat Productions is my sweet, sweet baby. Around the time I decided to get back into comics, I was offered the opportunity to work as an artist rep for a Brazilian studio. I accepted the job temporarily as a means to re-establish my contact list and source talent for my personal projects, but I quickly found that I had as much of an aptitude for finding artists jobs as I did for myself as a freelance writer during the crash.
After about a year, I decided to expand internationally and formed Space Goat Productions. We quickly added artists from Argentina, Mexico, Spain, the Philippines, and North America — growing from just repping pencilers into a full-blown talent management studio and packaging company. We provide not only pencilers, but inkers, colorists, letterers, graphic designers, illustrators… We do it all. Cover art. Interior art. Logo design. Character design. Art commissions. You name it. We even offer editing and project consultation services. You can find a list of our many, many, many services here.
We work primarily with new talent, establishing them with projects at bigger publishers and working with them to set their career goals. We can take an artist as far as his or her talent and work ethic allows. Marvel’s 2009 Young Gun Rafa Sandoval came to us after years of working in European comics and animation. We were able to quickly establish him as one of Marvel’s up-and-coming artists, culminating in a three-year exclusive contract and all the awesome gigs that come with being a Young Gun, like work on Mighty Avengers and a run on Avengers: Initiative that is looking just MIND BLOWING. It was Space Goat’s contacts that provided the opportunity, but it was Rafa’s badass art and work ethic that did the rest.
In just the last two years, we’ve landed work on such books as Avengers, Young X-Men, Nightwing, Spider-Man, New Exiles, Midnighter, What If? Heroes For Hire, Hulk, Skaar – Son of Hulk, War Machine, 2099 Timestorm, a ton of Marvel Adventures books… Marvel’s been very kind to Space Goat Productions.
Knocking on wood here, but at the pace we’re moving 2009 should see Space Goat quadruple in size.
AR: What lured you into the world of talent management?
SCB: First it was all about sourcing talent for my own projects, but then I quickly grew to enjoy helping artists with their careers. There’re a lot of things that I learned as a young freelancer breaking in to comics that I had to learn along the way — by trial and error. I would have paid good money to get advice from someone with as much experience as I now have; or good money to someone who could get my work in front of a senior editor in the blink of an eye.
I also enjoy using my contacts to help veterans re-establish themselves…like I found myself doing just four short years ago.
AR: How do you view the business differently now that you’re an agent as opposed to a straight-writer?
SCB: That’s a great question. Less singular? When I was a freelancer, I worried solely about my projects, my income, my career. Now I have well over thirty artists that I work with on a daily basis on dozens of projects in and out of the industry — all those artists rely on me to get them work, advance their careers, and make sure they get paid in a timely fashion.
My head used to only be full of story ideas…now it’s filled with production schedules and balance sheets…
AR: How has this shift in mentality affected your ability to come up with a story? Has the business affected the craft for you at all?
SCB: I have much, much less time to sit around and focus on story. Fortunately, I’m an extremely fast writer once I get my research done and am happy with an outline. Lower-case “business” has not affected the craft of writing for me, no. Upper-case “Business” has, especially as graphic novels and the push towards the book trade (or, alternately, the web) has continued to grow and grow. For my personal projects, anyway, I design my work to be more long form and pack fewer panels onto the page. It’s very liberating. Just wish I had more hours in the day to focus on it.
AR: Who are among the ranks of the Space Goat Elite?
SCB: We have a number of really great up-and-coming artists. We really only bring on talent that’s ready for the big league, I say, even though that statement is ridiculously subjective.
AR: What advice do you have for people trying to break into the business? Writers? Artists?
SCB: Be your own worst critic. And be patient. It takes years to get good enough to be published. Due to the sheer volume of books published every month and the limited number of editors, it’s very difficult for a new artist to get their work in front of the gatekeepers. And it’s even more difficult to earn the gatekeepers trust enough for them to try you out on a book — even when you are good enough to be published. Plus read this.
If you’re not working on a paying project, always be working on new samples. It’s very important to show editors that you’re not only hungry, but working to improve your craft. Lazy, rushed, or old samples are not going to impress anyone. And, yes, portfolio reviewers can spot a lazy/rushed/old portfolio from a mile away. It’s practically written on the artist’s face.
There are a lot of books being published every month. There’s no reason a new, hungry, competent artist can’t land one of those books, especially down in the lower tier of publishers. But be careful about how hungry you are. If a publisher is offering “backend” or “after-publication” payment for your services…be aware that you’ll most likely never see that money. Then you’ll really know what hunger feels like.
That’s just reality.
AR: So what can we expect from Space Goat this 2009?
SCB: So Much! Space Goat’s been doubling in size every year since we opened our doors in 2006. This year to date — if we keep with the Big Mo — we’re on course to quadruple our business. I’m very excited about that, especially with the economic contraction we’re currently enduring. Comics have proven to be somewhat recession proof — and Space Goat has proven to be a valuable resource to many publishers. Big and small.
Artists are also discovering the advantage of having an established talent management company in their corner. An artist can do a lot for themselves, but there comes a time when one needs to evaluate whether they want to always be on the prowl for new work, chasing checks, reading contracts…or if it’s best to let someone else do that work for them. So they can focus solely on their art. As a result, we’ve been approached by a lot of established talent of late asking for us to represent them.
To help out with the influx of artists (and other growth plans), we’re bringing on another talent manager who has decades of experience in the industry. We’re going to tease that out a bit. Suffice it to say, that it’s the closest thing to cloning myself that I could possibly do. This new talent manager is going to hit the ground running!
Lots of plans in the works — especially on some of our other services like lettering, custom comics, art commissions/art sales, and editing; areas that I have not taken full advantage of yet — that’s moved beyond my ability to facilitate all on my own. I’ve been on the look-out for office support for a long time. The stars seem to be aligning.
SCB: Not so much with the wink wink, no. I’m starting to ask around more aggressively about freelance writing, but nothing cool to hint about now. I’m pretty passive about reminding editors that I’m also a freelance writer at heart. It feels like a bait and switch. And I have an obligation to push Space Goat’s artists before I push my own writing.
That said, I’m very hungry to start playing in the superhero sandbox again. Once could say that I’m actually starving to get back into it.
This year will see Space Goat Publishing’s first — and perhaps only — graphic novel. Nox. I decided to self publish a long while ago, and have slowly been building towards that on my free time over the last year. I have no free time…