GrayHaven Comics (2013)

FANgirl Blog: You’ve had a big year, including recently winning a major industry award. Can you tell us a little about this?

Andrew Goletz: It’s been a huge year. It was a year in which I overreached in nearly every facet in my life and in some instances came very close to burning out. With GrayHaven a few of our editors had some health issues, which combined with our printer going out of business in the spring led to a complete standstill on our side. Thankfully I have a fantastic team, and along with getting a new printer we’ve pushed out a ton of books in a ridiculously short amount of time to where we’re back on track.

I was nominated for the award in the summer, and it really was just an honor to be nominated by the Philly Geek Awards. My wife and I had an excuse to dress up and go out and be a part of celebrating the very best of geek culture. I loved learning more about these wonderful projects that not only were amazingly done but had a message that transcended their own media. When my name was called as the winner (for Comic Creator of the Year) I was in shock. I did not write a speech – a rookie mistake figuring I didn’t have a chance to win, but managed to get through it. The entire experience filled me with an even bigger sense of dedication. You Are Not Alone obviously struck a chord with many people as evidenced by the massive amount of submissions and the success of the Kickstarter, but a part of me still always took this project as a therapeutic exercise. Being recognized by the Geek Awards showed me just how important this project can be to many, many other people. And while as a publisher and storyteller I want to publish the most interesting stories as possible, there is a renewed focus to also using our abilities to tell stories that can inspire and give hope to others.

FGB: What is the goal of GrayHaven Apprentice and is it as exhausting on the judges as it is for the contestants?

AG: The goal of GrayHaven Apprentice was to do something fun that was comic book related and have some fun creative challenges that fans of the website would enjoy reading about and participants would hopefully enjoy working on. Each challenge was designed to test as many facets of making comic books as we could come up with, from fan friendly reboots of the Marvel and DC Universes to marketing and self promotion to script writing and pitching stories. It’s all culminating in the final challenge which have the final three contestants – Courtland Funke, Jared Moore, and Sam Read – all pitching a one shot to us complete with script, character designs, and plot. The winner will have that one shot published by us next year. It’s really an expansion of what we’ve tried to do for the past five years, which was let new talent have opportunities they can’t get anywhere else.

FGB: GrayHaven has issued its second All-Women Anthology, which includes a story by Gail Simone. Between the first and the second volumes did you see growth in the stories and submissions?

AG: Oh absolutely. Gail has been a huge supporter of GrayHaven since the very beginning when she offered an in depth critique of our first issue and volunteered to write a short in our second issue. We have a very large number of female readers, and the All Women issue was a fun little experiment the first time around. I figured it’d be popular but it exceeded expectations. That book continues to get sales and I’ve gone back to print on it a number of times. The second installment saw probably a 100% increase in submissions and Erica Heflin, the editor, had a really tough time narrowing these stories down to a single volume. The book turned out great and it should be no secret that we’ll have another All Women issue next year.

FGB: One of your newer offerings is an adaptation of Elena Andrews YA thriller Run Like Hell. We wondered if Elena could tell us about the process of adapting prose to comic form?

EA: In my experience it’s a lot different. With the prose version, I’m responsible for conveying the images of everything from background to character descriptions to the readers through language. In adapting the book to a comic, George is there to bring the characters to life. Having an amazing talent like him forces me to pull back a bit in how I’m describing the scene, and in some cases I’ve rethought dialogue choices because of it. There are situations where certain dialogue flowed better not just based on what was written earlier in a scene but what was illustrated in a scene. You have to be able to give up some of the responsibility and power of creation when working with an artist and trust them to be able to do right by the story.

It’s also interesting because I’m revisiting the story after over a year of being away from the ‘final’ version and I find myself catching things that I’d like to change. Smaller edits and dialogue changes are okay, but I didn’t want to disservice readers of the book and complete change a major character moment even though on second glance I wanted to. I had to have some self restraint and not go too edit crazy.

FGB: One of FANgirl’s contributors, Mary Sheridan, participated in the Apprentice challenge, but also wrote and drew her first comic for the You Are Not Alone anthology. Why was this project so important to do? With the Kickstarter over, can people still support it?

AG: After the events of Sandy Hook I was pretty depressed. I didn’t want to write. I didn’t want to work. The only thing I could think about were my own kids and those poor victims of that tragic day. I wanted to do something. As a publisher, we’ve put out a lot of comics. I wanted to use that resource to tell stories of hope and inspiration for others, particularly younger people that not only have to deal with being afraid of getting shot at school but being bullied for the color of their skin, their sexual orientation or for not being part of the “in crowd.” As a dad, I think our kids are having to deal with a lot more than I ever did. With the advent of social media and cyber bullying, young people can’t even leave their problems at school. It follows them home.

I wanted to put out a book that dealt with different pressures that kids face in their lives. The target demographic is younger readers, junior high age, but the stories could apply to any age group or gender or race. We made a conscious decision to tell stories that would have some sort of message and maybe in some way offer a suggestion on how to get help if not an outright solution. The chapter breaks are designed to give website and toll free phone numbers that people can reach out to in need of help or if they’ve witnessed something going on.

The book was going to be created no matter what but the Kickstarter allowed us to print up a thousand copies of the book so it could be given away to schools or youth groups for free for anyone that wants one. Once the initial volumes go out to backers and the groups that requested it we’ll go back to print and offer the books for cost. I’d love for this book to be a resource for any person that would need it and I want to get it into as many hands as possible.

FGB: Finally, you always seem to have a lot on your plate with the comics, family, baseball coaching, and a job. How do you keep all the balls in the air? Any advice for others who are trying to bring their geeky passion dreams to life while keeping their normal day to day commitments?

AG: I like to be busy. When I feel busy I feel like I’m accomplishing something. Making comics is a passion that I would love to be able to make a living at full time. It does take a lot of time; I try to sneak in a few emails during the day but the majority of my work gets done when the family goes to bed. Family is more important than any of it. I don’t always succeed, but my goal is to be the best husband and father that I can be. Coaching and getting involved there is a great way for me to spend time with and connect to the kids, especially as they get older and don’t think dad is as “cool” as they were once led to believe. Even when deadlines are crunching and I could use the extra time, I make sure the computer gets turned off so I can play a game or action figures or throw the ball around or whatever is important to the kids. At worst, I stay up a little bit later that night and need to double my caffeine for the next day, but it’s entirely worth it.

For those aspiring creators, you just need to prioritize what you want. It’s definitely not easy, but then again nothing worth having is. I’d actually suggest they try their hand at our next Apprentice game. I think every contestant had a desire to quit at one point or another, dedicating several hours a day every day to just a game. I’m fortunate to have a great support system from my own family to the editors at GrayHaven – plug for  Ray Goldfield, Doug Hahner, Erica Heflin, Marc Lombardi, Glenn Matchett, and James O’Callaghan – who help take a huge load off my plate.

It only gets harder when you’re putting out your own work. You’ll sleep a little less and maybe have a few more grumpy days but when your work is done. When it’s in your hands and you can say ‘I did that’ there are no regrets.