Krypton Radio Interviews Tom Hutchison and Stephen Smirl of Big Dog Ink
Interview by Gene Turnbow
At the annual Long Beach Comic Convention last October 30, we got to speak with Tom Hutchison and Stephen Smirl of Big Dog Ink! Mr. Hutchison owns the fledgling but rising comic book company and created Critter; Mr. Smirl writes and draws Island Tales.
The first issue of Critter was released to the public in April of 2011, and it takes comic books back to the basics: good story, appealing artwork, great characters, fantasy costumes and utility belts.
Gene Turnbow: It’s great to see you here at the convention, Tom! Can you tell our readers about your publishing company and what you’ve been doing?
Tom Hutchinson: Actually this is our third year at the Long Beach Comic Convention, and our third year that we’ve been in existence, so this is sort of our anniversary as well. Since 2009, we came with a couple of titles, starting with “Penny for your Soul”, which we followed up with our superhero title called “Critter”, and this year we’re doing five or six series. We’re releasing at this show our western reimagining of the Wizard of Oz called “The Wicked West”, and we just keep on growing.
GT: I see the quality of these books is extremely high, certainly as good as from any major publisher I’ve ever seen. How long does it take to produce one of these books, and what are you working hard on developing right now?
Tom Hutchinson: When we started this, we really wanted to make a splash with our art. To do that, we really had to make some decisions, primarily about the distribution of it. Most of our books at this point are bi-monthly, they’re coming out every two months. We want to give our artists all the time in the world to do the best work they can possibly do. In order for us to compete artistically in this business – well, art is the first thing people see. So we let our artists do their job, and we have great people working for us.
GT: So how many people does it take to do one of these?
Tom Hutchinson: It varies. On “Critter”, there are three people. I’m the writer, the artist does the pencils, the inks and the color all himself, and then we have a letterer. We have a horror book coming out in May called “Ursa Minor”. I write it, we have a penciller, Ian Snyder, an inker named Sony Mervin [pronounced "Sunny"], a colorist named Luis Guerrero, and a letterer. So in that case we have five, and every book’s a little bit different.
GT: How do you manage your distribution? Are you online, or publish on demand? I see you have a great deal of product out here on the table – it’s high production value, and it’s a little less expensive than you’d see from a major publisher.
Tom Hutchinson: Our distributor is Diamond, which is the primary comic book distribution channel in America, so we’re available essentially nation wide. If your comics shop wants to carry us, they can do so. There’s no difference in the way our comic is distributed than say, if you wanted to buy Spider-Man or Batman. It’s the exact same system.
GT: So how did you get started in this business? The first hurdle is deciding that you’re going to do it, and then you have to be funded somehow…
Tom Hutchinson: Funding is always tricky, I mean, not everybody has the money to sink into a company. A lot of the people you see here are self-publishing, they’re doing it all themselves, they’re writing and drawing the books themselves. That’s totally cool, but in our case we wanted to go a little bit beyond the standard self-publishing, we wanted to be be a publisher, not just be me trying self-publish my own work. So we went and found funding for what we were doing. We found guys who would get behind us. They looked at the product we were trying to produce, they understood what we were trying to do, and they saw the quality in it, ultimately. So we were very lucky in that regard, and that kind of funding allows us to pay page rates to these guys. There’s no back end deals, or back end percentages or any of that kind of stuff. Everybody who works on these books gets paid.
GT: That’s a fantastic business model, and it’s so different from how a lot of these content creation companies do business, not just comic books but movies and music and pretty much anything else creative. They have so much dependence on this deferred payment which is just industry slang for “you’re working for free”.
Tom Hutchinson: That’s pretty true. And, you know, paying page rates is not easy – and we’re not the most profitable business on the planet because of that. But what we do have is a quality level that will stand up to Marvel or DC. And I would stand behind that on anything we produce.
GT: Tell me about “Island Tales” – and who is this that I’m speaking to?
Stephen Smirl: I’m Stephen Smirl and I’m the creator and writer of “Island Tales”. It’s a series of one-shot stories based on Hawaiian and Polynesian lore and fantasy. Sometimes they’re straight retellings, sometimes they’re updated for the current day – but we’ve targeted a lot of non-comic book fans. Most of our fans come from Facebook; they’re not used to going into comic book shops, so we’ve drawn a lot of those people into the comics world. But we give them self-contained stories rather than serialized stories, because they’re not used to reading serialized stories.
GT: Once again, the artwork is fantastic. I see some anime influences in it. And it’s some really solid drawing and characterization.
Stephen Smirl: Thank you.
GT: Now what about “Critter”, the mini-series? You said it was a four issue series, and that it was all wrapped up now?
Tom Hutchinson: It’s all wrapped up – it officially wraps on November 2, 2011, that’s the official release for issue #4. Technically it’s a five issue series, if you include the initial origin story. So there were five issues total, and it’s been a great success, people who’ve seen it at the shows have really loved her, which is great. She’s been with me for a long long time. The online web boards I’m on and things that I use I use the tagline “Critter’s Daddy”, because I just love her, so I’m glad everyone else does. The fourth issue has a nice little cliffhanger at the end that will lead us right into the online book that we’re going to be doing next year in 2012. It’ll be our first monthly book.
If you’re a superhero fan, it’s great old school superhero stuff. You’re on the ground floor of a character, you’re learning about her powers as she does. So it’s a lot like early Spider-Man even, where Peter Parker was trying to figure this whole thing out. It’s not like today, where the characters just are a superhero, and the books are about the battles they fight.
There are a lot of comic book companies out there. But few of them are doing it as right as Tom Hutchison and Big Dog Ink are. “Critter” was a treat, and we’ll be posting a review of the origin story of this book in January.