Interview with Validation’s Christian Beranek and Kelci Crawford at Phoenix Comicon 14
A few weeks ago at Phoenix Comicon, I had the opportunity to chat with the creators of the webcomic Validation, Christian Beranek and Kelci Crawford. We chatted about webcomics and women working in the comics industry. I had a set list of questions. Truly, I did. Once the three of us got going though, the interview became a fluid and insightful conversation.
In Validation, Ally is a transgender character finding her way through her social life, new friendships, and nerd interests. It’s not only Ally that is a great character. Vaildation’s supporting cast has depth of personality too. Beranek writes witty and heartfelt scripts. Crawford lends her uncanny ability to capture characters in cartoon form, each with a distinct visual presence. They do all of this in just three panels!
WPR: Many of my questions are about women creators growing as creators and how it is happening in the industry. Webcomics seem to be an acceptable path because you just need a website; you don’t need someone to say this is good or not. Is that medium a better mechanism for women participating in comics? And is that the stepping stone to get somewhere else? Do we even need to get somewhere else?
Beranek: We don’t need to get anywhere else.
Crawford: We are good as we are. We’ve got easier ways to get our stuff out there now. I’m not sure why we would want to go toward those gatekeepers.
Beranek: Exactly, what are you going towards? To write Batman or Superman?
Crawford: That’s never been my goal to be honest. I’ve never grown up thinking I want to draw Superman one day. I never had that. I was one of those weird kids that wanted to tell their own stories. Webcomics is a good outlet to do that. [Ed. Note: Kelci, I don’t find that weird at all! Telling your own stories is what this is all about!]
Beranek: Well, I saw the power of it. I used to publish The Devil’s Panties by Jennie Breeden. I met Jennie in 2004 or something like that. I was like this is amazing you have all the fans on this and you call your own shots. So I published her stuff and I went to a couple of shows with her. One was over in Bristol, England and they knew who she was and they would bring her stuff based on what happened in the webcomic. Like in one webcomic she said she loved chocolate so like all they brought was the amazing European chocolate. It was overflowing her bag. I actually took some home for myself. Jennie calls her own shots and does her own thing. In webcomics you can do that. You don’t need validation from anybody else.
WPR: So then why is it [working for “The Big Two”] so much a part of the discussion?
Beranek: Because people want to feel like they’re legitimate doing legitimate comics, you know what I mean. And that is something we’ve got to break.
Crawford: That is something I see in my older sister. She has been working a novel for the past ten years and she’s like I still want to seek out a publisher because self-publishing seems really like a bad idea. With novels, I guess, it might be. But webcomics and that kind of stuff, it’s kind of a necessity to get your stuff out there.
Beranek: I think people too have this dream that I just want to write and draw. Now here it is, make me money.
Crawford: Yeah, that is what my sister is going through too. She just wants to make the book and pitch it to somebody and be like “can you publish it for me?” That I can understand, that people want to do that. I really do but, I’d rather be in control. I am a picky person. I like being able to control like when I get posts out, who knows what, and getting the name out there. What conventions I go to an all that stuff.
Beranek: With Jennie [Breedon of The Devil’s Panties], I did publish her book, but at the end of it I was like just do your own thing. I actually got her set up with a deal at Archaia right after. They did one edition and after that she went on her own. I was like you don’t need anybody else. They came to you because you have a fan base. These days it’s about the concept and the idea. If you are executing it really well then…
WPR: What do you find most rewarding about producing a comic that comes from your own point of view? Is it different when you are of working on someone else’s project?
Crawford: I don’t know. I see a lot of the rewards actually overlap. I see the thing about Johnson & Sir as the same as Validation, and that is seeing the reader feedback and knowing that the readers really like my stuff. And with Johnson and Sir, I do love that a lot of the readers are, even thought still a small readership, involved and send me messages about they liked this or that they finally caught up on couldn’t believe that I did that. And that is awesome.
WPR: With that in mind, would you rather reach thousands of people with less feedback or have the small dedicated, close-knit, and invested readership?
Crawford: I kinda like the smaller group aspect. Because I used to do caricatures at Cedar Point where I would reach thousands of people every single day and that got overwhelming. And I really don’t want to do that, like, again anytime soon. Ask me again in ten years and I might change my mind. But, right now I really like the close-knit [audience] commenting and that’s OK. Being able to have a small readership is cool with me because then I know everybody and I like knowing my readers and being able to talk with them about stuff.
Beranek: Definitely a small group that is personally invested. I think seeing people that come back each time and comment. It’s the thing that if one person is commenting all the time there are probably like 20 or 30 people that are lurking out there and just as passionate but don’t comment.
Beranek: So if you’ve got 20-30 hardcore fans that are commenting you could have 200-300 out there you don’t even know about. The interaction to me is important. People have all these Twitter followers and like 20,000 Facebook fans or Twitter followers but how many are actually interacting with them. Are they just buying those fans?
Crawford: Yes. I was actually working with [another company] and they did a [paid] campaign recently. I was like, you’re cheating! You’re buying readers not actually getting readers that are naturally drawn into your comic.
Beranek: Even with the algorithms to buy those readers sometimes they are buying them from Indonesia or other places and your Facebook “Likes” only really get you to a certain percentage of your fan base online. With us, we are seeing more views of our Facebook posts than are our actual fans of the page. That is kind of different.
WPR: So you think people are sharing it themselves and building a true network?
Crawford: I haven’t looked at the numbers yet because you can actually see who shared this and how many views did it get from that share. But there has been a lot of sharing of our stuff. It builds, which is really cool.
WPR: Aside from creating, because I know you’ve [Beranek] done a lot of work on the marketing side, what other places should women be tapping into to help or contribute to make an environment for more voices. Like critics, do we care about criticizing “The Big Two” or is it more about supporting the group that shares our vision?
Beranek: I think is there is always going to be a critical group. But be critical of everything. Read everything. Don’t just read superhero books; read a webcomic and talk about that too.
Crawford: Read graphic novels! More people need to read graphic novels. Mix it up with some webcomics and all of the smaller stuff. No only superheroes.
Beranek: Don’t go out there like the big show is only the Big Two. There are great books at Dark Horse. And, First Second puts out great stuff.
Crawford: I love what First Second is doing.
Beranek: Celebrate great stuff. There is only so much time in the day, we can keep blasting the idiocy of the Big Two with their women issues but whatever, I would say celebrate what’s good and promote that.
Crawford: It’s kind of a good phrase for life: focus on the positive.
Beranek: There has been so much negative recently. So many things called out that it turns off a lot of people that don’t want to hear about it.
WPR: There are many women at this convention. It seems that no matter the demographics or numbers that come out we are denied [existence].
Beranek: Why is that? That is the big issue. Look at all the women here at this con.
Crawford: They don’t want to acknowledge our awesomeness.
Beranek: They just want to keep their little comic book fandom the way it is and they are the most vocal people online.
Crawford: Because online there isn’t much of a filter for them. And it’s like this comment can’t easily be traced back to me so let fly with my opinions. In person, I haven’t come across a lot of hate. Online, there’s hate.
Beranek: One thing too that I think a lot of people need to embrace within themselves is to trust in their audience. Write what you believe in and then if it is coming from a pure place inside of you and it reflects your experiences—it shows it’s something you want to do. Don’t try to write to appease the mainstream. Right? From there, trust the audience to pick up on that.
Crawford: It is always better to write something you believe in than to write something for the market. Just because you choose to sellout doesn’t mean that anyone is going to buy.
WPR: One last thing, if you were going to inspire someone with a point of view they want to express through webcomics, what would be your advice?
Crawford: Make it!
Beranek: Yeah, well. I would say making a webcomic seems like a daunting task, but if you just build it from scratch and have a good plan anyone can do it. It’s possible to do a webcomic. I can be impossible to keep it going. You know. So if you believe in it, as we’re saying, keep going and reaching out to find your audience. Good ones will grow an audience.
Crawford: Not all webcomics need to last forever.
Beranek: That is true too. We don’t know when ours is going to end. I’ll be sad when ours ends, but you know, we’re going to keep it going for as long as we can.
Crawford: And I want to keep Johnson and Sir going for as long as I can. But I know that will have a definite end at some point.
I can’t thank Christian and Kelci enough for taking time to talk with me! I hope no sales were lost while we did this interview at their table at Phoenix Comicon. They did sell out of the hardcopy of Validation on Sunday—great news! Be sure to read Validation on the web.
If you follow my reviews and interviews at WatchPlayRead, you’ll know that I often key in on the issues surrounding women the in comic industry, both as creators and protagonists. It is not only women whose stories too often find themselves on the outskirts of mainstream—so many points of view and stories are not being told at the major companies or in the top 100 selling titles. But there are people creating on a smaller scale who are sharing their unique world views and are well worth your time. You might have to search. They might not be available for your weekly pull lists. However, they exist. Let’s give them the attention they deserve.
As Christian and Kelci said: READ EVERYTHING. And promote the good stuff. Tell the creators you like it. Tell your friends you like it. Comics are for everybody. You can even buy a t-shirt that says so.