I enjoy interviewing creators of all genres, I enjoy interviewing creators even more when I’m a fan of their work, which is why I also enjoy being the Editor in Chief here at Bagogames.
I get to speak with all kinds of interesting creators in gaming, music, movies and comics. So whenever I get the chance to speak with an artist I enjoy, you better believe I’m going to take it.
Caytlin Vilbrandt, also known as Pixel Prism, is graphic designer who also creates comics and is in the process of starting up a Kickstarter for her webcomic Tamberlane.
The story for Tamberlane:
One day, the citizens of Treehollow discovered a small, strange creature wandering alone in Rattleglen Forest. Clearly much too young to be on her own, and with limited verbal communication skills (though she gets by with a little sign language), it’s anyone’s guess how this mysterious being, named Tamberlane, ended up in their care.
Fostered by Belfry, the accident-prone bat with a heart of gold, and guided by a colorful cast of animal characters, Tamberlane’s mysteries continue to unfold. But one question remains on everyone’s mind: who (or more specifically, what) is she?
I got to speak with her about her fears, dreams, inspirations and oh so much about creating comics.
Bagogames: First off, thank you for taking the time to speak with me, I know you’re very busy
Caytlin Vilbrandt: Happy to do so! Thank YOU for approaching me!
BG: Let’s start with some business, you’re currently doing a Kickstarter, right?
CV: Yep! I’m in the last leg of prep for that. It will be launching sometime in early August, first to Patrons then to the public!
BG: What can you tell us about that?
CV: So, this Kickstarter is to bring Chapter 3 (of the webcomic Tamberlane) to print, so it can grace your shelves with the first two already printed issues! Like all my comic books, it comes with a substantial section of extra content in the back, featuring concept art, commentary, and more.
But like a lot of Kickstarters there are a lot of extra fun rewards that will be available as well, such as stickers, prints, and custom sketches in your books! Plus a lot more that can be unlocked with stretch goals and backer achievements.
BG: Are there any plans for a compilation that will give readers multiple chapters together, like a vol. 1, 2, ect?
CV: In theory, I’d love to put Chapters 1 through 4 together, once chapter 4 is done, as they comprise the 1st act. That will depend on a lot of factors though, such as, is it worth it to print compilations as I go? Or better to wait til the end? How much editing on the chapters do I want to do? — which will probably be what gets me galvanized to gather them up together!
That said, the Chapter 2 Kickstarter did feature a Stretch Goal that got unlocked at the last second thanks to one very kind backer that gathered Chapters 1 and 2 into a hardbound volume with some exclusive extras (namely, a brief guide to Trissol, the sign language in the comic, and the cypher for Growl, the alphabet). But those were limited to that Kickstarter only, and I have…I think… maybe 6 left?
BG: Sounds very valuable, let’s talk about Kickstarter, what’s the hardest and easiest part of creating and running a campaign?
CV: Whew, good questions! So to preface, I am, perhaps, more ambitious about my campaigns than others might be in my position. Which is to say, because I’m a graphic designer, I lean hard into the graphic design, and I want everything to be tight and professional. Which means that I make. A Lot. Of. Graphics.
Today I just redid 24 graphics I had already done yesterday because when I put them into the campaign, it turns out that they confused the flow of information and made it confusing! So I suppose the hardest part is just getting all of the assets and designs and merchandise done before the campaign starts.
Though, that is actually pretty neck and neck with the actual planning, too. Figuring out what to write, what you’re offering, where all the math is situated, getting quotes… It’s all pretty complicated. Fun! But complicated. I hate writing the copy, personally, so this time I was super lucky to be able to hire Nicole ‘Thornwolf’ Dornsife to help me with that.
She does copywriting for indie creatives for hire and she’s VERY good. She made the whole process much, much easier. (Her services are at http://www.thornwolf.com/services) As far as the easiest? Hmmm… Coming up with ideas, probably. It’s easy to throw out a bunch of ideas and think about all the great things you can offer.
It gets out of hand REALLY fast! Haha, whoops. Honestly, Kickstarters are hard from start to finish. It’s a several-month slog of loudly marketing, planning, designing, ordering, communicating, organizing, and fulfilling. It’s exhausting, but boy are you proud at the end of it!
BG: That sounds like a headache, but you mentioned planning. Do you have a think tank of sorts, where you get family and friends to help you plan, or do you pitch ideas to yourself?
CV: So, the pitching goes to one of three places:
- Mostly to myself, while I’m coming up with what I can physically or financially handle fulfilling, like what makes sense with my shipping packages (prints smaller than the book) and what’s wildly out of reach (plush toys).
- To my husband and friends, who can help sanity check my ideas and keep me from running screaming halfway through the campaign because I Did Too Much
- My patrons, whom I poll often to figure out what they’re interested in! Recently, I was trying to decide between offering a tote bag or a messenger bag for the Kickstarter, and furthermore what kind of design they like on their bags. While I’m partial to graphic-design-heavy bags (like, say, an in-universe logo), most of my patrons prefer something with cute cast characters on it. They’re always helping me see my blind spots!
BG: So you have a great support system, that’s a relief, it’s really easy to do too much.
Doing a Kickstarter is always a risk, even if your product(s) are popular. How do you measure the right time to release a Kickstarter, are there milestones in viewers and/or Patreons or do you just take a stab in the dark and hope for the best?
CV: Yeah, I’ve really got to watch it or else I take on way too much! I’m too ambitious for my own good. So, for the most part I decide to do a Kickstarter when I am feeling up for the hassle, really.
It usually shakes out to about once a year, since it takes a good 4-6 months to go through the whole process. But my readers and patrons will often remind me when they’re ready for another one; I’ve had folks asking after the 3rd Chapter Kickstarter since the 2nd one wrapped! (I’m incredibly fortunate to have been able to cultivate such a sweet and involved reader base over the last decade!)
Honestly, the motivation behind the timing on this one though is that I’m coming back from retirement back into vending at conventions (rarely, locally), and I got accepted into GeekGirlCon. I wanted to have the third book available for the table, which meant jumping on a Kickstarter as fast as possible.
BG: I’m really interested in talking about cons and artist tables, but first I would like to know how you balance planning your Kickstarter (since you say it takes half a year to make) and planning your comic? Doing both has to add on the stress and risk.
CV: Haha, weeeell, both are a little… by the seat of my pants. This one, I got the acceptance to the table and started working backwards on timelines, only to realize I had 3 weeks to get one put together.
So that’s what I’ve been doing non-stop for the last few weeks: going as fast as I can to get this Kickstarter out the door! I wouldn’t recommend this tactic to anyone. I’m so tired, haha.
As for planning my comic, I generally can only have one major priority at a time, so while the Kickstarter planning is in full swing, my comic takes a back seat. I’ve been making sure to still get my requisite page out each week, but I’ve also eaten up the buffer I had saved up.
Thankfully, after the Kickstarter launches I’ll be able to devote more time to getting it back up to snuff. Otherwise, I plan the comic in stints usually, getting the general outline done and then working scene-by-scene. So thankfully, since the current scene is already 90% planned out/scripted, I can focus elsewhere for a little while longer!
BG: How long does it usually take to plan out your buffer and reach it to completion?
CV: Tough question! I do everything a bit haphazardly, so it’s hard to say. Broadly, I brainstorm each chapter as a whole, do probably 4 rounds of revisions on an outline, then another 3 or so versions of the script (a bit at a time). Then from thumbnails to completion, it usually takes me about 5 or 6 hours per page. So… probably if you break up the previous steps… maybe 8-10 hours?
BG: I can’t imagine spending half the day drawing, that’s passion! How far ahead in the story of Tamberlane are you in your head? Do you have the ending in mind or is there a certain point like chapters?
CV: I can certainly confirm that I’m fueled pretty heavily by passion! I LOVE what I do and even on the days when it’s like pulling teeth getting anything done, I wouldn’t trade my job for the world.
So, I have different stages of planning. I’m pretty solid on what happens in Chapter 4, ssssort of solid on what happens in Chapter 5, squishy about Chapters 6 & 7, and fairly ephemeral about Chapter(s) 8+.
I know how I want it to end, and I know what conflicts I want to escalate and resolve before I get there, but I’m not entirely certain how it’s going to shake out or what’s going to end up in the story versus on the cutting room floor.
I can give a general one-sentence gist for each chapter after 5, but that’s about it. I can say I plan for it to be roughly 8 chapters, going up to 10 at the most.
BG: I would love to ask about that sentence, but I think your readers would rather wait and see things escalate naturally.
Since we’re talking about the future, a few of the children characters have grown a bit, especially the titular character, Tamberlane, will we see that continue as chapters progress or are we at Tamb’s peak age (3) for the story?
CV: I can confirm that we are at Tamberlane’s (and the rest of the cast’s) final age for the story! … Unless something changes. Which it might. How’s that for definite? Haha.
BG: This next part may be a little spoiler fodder, Tamberlane is obviously human and we keep hearing about ‘abroad’ and hints that it’s dangerous. Will fans see more humans soon or will they have to wait a couple more chapters?
This next part may be a little spoiler fodder, Tamberlane is obviously human and we keep hearing about ‘abroad’ and hints that it’s dangerous. Will fans see more humans soon or will they have to wait a couple more chapters?
CV: That’s definitely spoiler fodder! All I will say is that if you’re waiting to see more like Tamberlane, you’ll be waiting a few chapters.
BG: Poor Tamberlane. Last question about the story, the world is filled with magnificent anthropomorphic creatures, are there any animals that don’t walk and talk like people?
CV: There are! In fact a couple have been on-screen, though most people miss them. On page 63, there’s a bird; Milo’s moth Sophie shows up on page 125; and you can see a little cat in the tavern and on the big mega page (pages 160 and 174). I want to put more in but it just kinda falls by the wayside haha.
BG: Earlier you talked about conventions and having a table, for new artists or people hoping to have a table in the near future, what goes into getting ready?
CV: Oh boy! So, assuming you’ve already been accepted for your table, you’ll want to have a few paperwork things done up front: you’ll need a seller’s license for that state (temporary or permanent is up to you), and you need to know the sales tax in that state.
You’re going to have to collect sales tax and remit it to the government within 10 days after the con is over. After that, you’re gonna want to figure out what you want to sell! At the cons I sell at, books will generally sell the best (comic or otherwise) so it’s always good to have as many of those as you can.
I also sell stickers and key chains and mini-prints. You’ll want to know what size table you’ll be vending on so you can plan out your display. Going vertical is always a great idea, because you can get a lot more out of it! That means having those organizer cubes as towers on either side of your table, or something more creative.
You can also make risers out of cardboard boxes under your tablecloth to put just a little height on stuff resting on the table!
When I use organizer cubes I always have it so there are 3 cubes stacked vertically on either side. The top two are facing out and holding merchandise; the bottom one is facing toward me and I store things there.
Then the sides of the cubes can be used for displaying prints and other hanging things. I would suggest looking up a bunch of photos of con booths for inspiration and drawing from that.
No matter what though don’t forget: – Signage! Including your prices! (Having prices both on your display copies AND on a consolidated menu helps cut down on customer questions!) – Pens, pencils, tape, rubber bands, safety pins, paperclips, scissors! A tablecloth! You can just get a length of fabric from the store, or a real tablecloth, or even just use a sheet! – A waste bin! – Your tax paperwork! – And protective baggies or otherwise for handing your prints to customers.
Remember to reuse if you can or buy baggies made from recycled plastic 🙂
BG: My goodness, that’s a lot to remember, I didn’t think it took that much effort. Let’s talk bad experiences with tables, what are some bad ones you had the displeasure of experiencing?
CV: Hmm, I’ve been very fortunate to have wonderful vending experiences! I guess the worst I can say is that while I love talking to folks, after about 10 minutes of loitering around the booth, I probably need a break!
Especially if other folks are trying to buy or browse around them. Remember that vendors are trapped behind their booths, and while we are friendly, lovely people, we’re also probably running on 5 hours of sleep and a gallon of caffeine!
On the other hand, I’ve had plenty of friends who have been harassed at cons, and that’s really bad. If you’ve got a problem with someone, hunting them down in person is not the way to go about it.
But fortunately, I’ve never been in that position.
BG: Any advice on how to to make a stressful day at the booth a better and less stressful experience?
CV: Honestly, that’s a lesson I’m still learning myself. But I can at least say this much:
- Having a booth partner is invaluable. It’s totally possible to vend on your own but having someone to take over for you, go on food runs, count money, or fetch inventory is absolutely the way to go. If you can swing one, take full advantage (but treat them nicely!). If you can’t swing a booth buddy, usually you can flag down con staff to help, keeping an eye on your table while you’re gone, etc.
- It’s important to take the time to take care of yourself. Stay hydrated (like REALLY hydrated), eat food (bring snacks to fill in the gaps), use the bathroom when you gotta, and don’t sacrifice your well-being for selling. At the end of the day, your customers can wait an extra five minutes. Stress can wreak absolute havoc on a body.
- Keep your inventory sorted and easy to access! And keep the variety down as much as possible. If something doesn’t sell super great, it’s okay to exclude it.
- Use Square. That includes using it for cash transactions as well. It will help with records. Things to do with square: – put your inventory in so you can just push buttons in the POS app – make sure you have the sales tax accounted for – have either a hotspot or use your phone as a hotspot because WiFi is ALWAYS spotty
BG: So much to learn, how long did it take before you got the hang of having your own booth?
CV: It was definitely a couple years of trial and error. I did a lot of boothing for my previous webcomic that was sort of my learning curve. Then when we had our card game, that kicked it up a few notches and we learned fast how to be efficient!
BG: Trail and error, speaking of such things, where did your art style come from, what/who are your inspirations?
CV: Indeed! My art style is cobbled together over decades of loving art.
I get strong influences from Disney, of course, and I love anime, especially 90’s era shows. I definitely fall into that East/West melding style that is pretty prevalent among my generation.
But I also get influences from specific artists, like Lois van Baarle, JC Amberlyn, Yuko Ota, Claire Hummel, Glitched Puppet, and a huge host of others. I also love older artists like Beatrix Potter and Mary Blair.
BG: Oh my, you truly enjoy art, especially brightly colored characters, what are some animations you enjoy watching for reference or study?
CV: What a great question! I’ve got a whole list, haha. Secret of Kells and The Song of the Sea are both huge for me; so is Wolf Children, Silent Voice, Your Name, and basically any Ghibli movie.
Lilo and Stitch, Lion King, Zootopia, Lady and the Tramp. Not animation exactly but Stranger Than Fiction, The Spirit, and Hugo are all inspirational to me.
Then, in terms of non-movies, Puffin Rock, Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, and gosh I know I’m missing SO MANY MORE but that’s a good starter pack, haha. Oh a few more: Unico, Ringing Bell, Kimba, and other 60s/70s era Sanrio/Tezuka
Editors note: The interview was updated to link readers towards the Tamberlane Kickstarter