Neal and Dexter, the Early Years
I’ve interviewed my friend Neal Bailey a number of times here on “Rambling On,” discussing the progress of CURA TE IPSUM, the fantastic “can one man save himself across the Multiverse” webcomic written by Neal and drawn by the incomparable Dexter Wee. About a month ago, Neal started a Kickstarter to publish a print version of Year Two of the webcomic, with lots of awesome perks for backers … and I promptly dropped the ball in regards to having him on here again to promote it. There’s still four days left and the campaign is going strong, so better late than never, right?
ANTHONY: Hi Neal! So, what’s new and exciting in the world of CURA TE IPSUM?
NEAL: Hey, Anthony! Honestly, that probably depends on your perspective. For the readers, we’re going into a section of story that’s going to be decidedly exciting. A big paradigm shift in the next few months, and the beginnings of the origin of the Dark Everett.
For me, what’s exciting is winding toward the middle of Year Five (I write… in the FUTURE) and finishing up this Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style novella I’m doing for the Kickstarter. It’s a lot of fun.
Also… HARDBACKS! We will have hardbacks, it looks like, thanks to this wonderful Kickstarter thing.
ANTHONY: What made you feel now was the right time to run a Kickstarter for CURA?
NEAL: Honestly, going to cons and watching other independent comics make use of it with no ill effects. I used to write for the internet, and if I learned one thing writing for the internet, it was that if you do a thing and ask for money for it, you get nastygrams from people, for some reason. At least, you used to. That has changed now. As the medium grows, people start to understand if they don’t support a thing, it goes away, which sucks.
I was going to do one big Kickstarter, at the end of Cura, and try and recoup something, anything of the tens of thousands of dollars I’ve thrown into it. I saw Kickstarter as a trigger you could pull once, a fundraising tool to get a thing recognition and a printing.
Then I printed my own trades a few times, and realized I couldn’t continue to do it on my own. I debated options. Going two days a week (which would lead to pay reduction for Dex, which I didn’t want to do). Going to companies (I already have, and a few big ones passed on Cura). That’s when I started asking my other friends doing webcomics and they indicated that the model for Kickstarter has shifted. You’re not a fink for doing one once a year, it’s more of a situation like Kickstarter is a Previews for the indie world. People who like indie comics come, see things that need regular support, order it, and keep it going.
I realized I can do Year Two, and if the people like it, then it wouldn’t be the only hurrah. There is a matrix and community of people who will support a thing that you’re earnestly passionate about. That is quite a reassurance for a struggling writer, and I said to myself, what’s the worst that could happen, you fail? Then you just don’t produce the book, you keep making Cura, you don’t go into more debt, win-win. It’s really quite amazing.
Year Two Cover Concept
ANTHONY: With only four days to go, you’re very possibly going to double your original goal. What are some of the perks backers can get if they sign on before the campaign ends?
NEAL: We’ve had two stretch goals so far, the first one is better paper, which I REALLY wanted to get for folks, and the hardbacks, which people REALLY wanted to get from me. I got a lot of messages asking for them. If we reach the $7,500 mark (and we’re darn close as of this writing) folks will have a hardback option.
The stretch goals after that are pure perks for folks. I’m going to set a new stretch goal the minute we hit that $7,500, if we’re that fortunate, but to be honest, I have been so overwhelmed by the outpouring of support that I’ve been floored. Anything after where we are now is just a way to make the book better… it’s already happening! Isn’t that fantastic?
The biggest perk that people will have if we do double our goal, outside of any material thing, is the secure knowledge that it’s setting up Cura for at least another solid year, and guaranteeing that trades will continue to be worthwhile and fought for. There isn’t much squeak between the costs and the pledges, but whatever squeak there is will go right back into the book and the comic. I went bankrupt five years ago throwing my own cash into my work, and I’m so incredibly glad that I have a support net here now to help keep this book going. It makes me redouble my efforts and believe even more in what we’re doing, as shallow as that might sound. It’s amazing what a little validation will do. My life is forever changed.
I’m going to try and manage some postcards and paper dolls, bookmarks, whatever I can manage to throw in as a bonus, depending on the final tally. This is really about the people who made this happen, and I want to reward them as much as I can for their good faith.
ANTHONY: You’re creating a “Choose Your Own Dimension” adventure for backers, right? Tell us about that.
NEAL: I used to collect all of the Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid, and when I was in elementary I was fortunate enough to have a writer of those style of books come to the school and explain the process. Since then it’s fascinated me.
Once I started doing Cura, early on, I realized that it would lend itself extraordinarily well to a Choose Your Own Adventure style narrative, and I started to write one, but I stopped, for several reasons. Firstly, I wanted to make it a comic, which I hadn’t seen before outside of a book that slips my mind, the title, but it was amazing. I am embarrassed that I don’t recall. That had issues, because Dex is busy, and asking him to do a hundred page comic while he’s already doing Cura and other stuff wouldn’t work. The story is narrative enough and a handful.
I set it aside. I kept thinking about it, but I set it aside, and in the meanwhile fleshed out all of the characters I’d already outlined. Then the Kickstarter came, and Greg Rucka suggested, when I solicited his advice on my Kickstarter, that I ought to do a Choose Your Own Adventure. Recalling my earlier idea, it sounded like it might make a great novella, and so here I am, writing it. It’ll feature almost every member of Cura and Nosce that we’ve seen so far, and some other characters we may never see. You’re every Charlie, and some of the choices you can make are pretty hairy.
I did make one change to the basic formula. As morality tales, CYOA novels seem to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. I like a more chaotic view of nature and nurture. Sometimes if you do the right thing, bad things still happen, and sometimes when you do a bad thing, there are no consequences. But sometimes it’s as you might expect, and I hope to keep people jumping.
Either way the dang thing is 15,000 words and climbing, so it’s not a minor perk, I hope.
The Last Supper, Cura Style
ANTHONY: I see this question a lot regarding Kickstarters: you’ve hit your funding goal, and passed it — why should I back it?
NEAL: That goes a bit to what I mentioned before, in my earlier answer. First off, the more books I can order, the longer Cura is supported, in multiple respects. I can go to cons and get physical books into the hands of people who have never seen it, which helps the readership, which feeds the book. I can offset the cost of paying Dex, because I believe in paying my artist even when I can’t afford it (and God, have I been stretched thin the last five years). Most importantly, however, every purchase is a vote of confidence that says this book is a thing worth fighting for outside of my own mind, which is critical. It will make my work better, which will in turn feed what I turn out, which will in turn reward those who buy even when the initial goal is met.
Also, another important factor is that the initial goal is the bare minimum to get the project done, the books alone, and anything after that is where things start to be about extra for keeping the wheels turning. Plus, y’know, perks! Stretch goals. There’s good for everyone if we can keep going.
I can unconditionally guarantee that not a penny beyond the goal will go to anything beyond Cura. Hell, if we made a hundred thousand dollars, after Cura was colored, made into a short film, got an app, got Dex a Syntique, or whatever the heck else could benefit Cura, I’d still take cash from my own wallet and put it into making the comic more.
I am a strange duck, in that I never wrote for profit (shhh, don’t tell editors). I write for love of the characters in the hopes that profit may come, that I may write for love of the characters, on and on and on. If I have a dry room and a pen, I’m good. The cash is all about the book, and always will be. If I needed money for my own fun or amusement, I’d go back to day labor moving cabinets with stoners.
i09.com described Cura as “an emotional crisis on infinite earths.”
ANTHONY: Dexter’s art continues to amaze and astound. Is he creating any special new art for certain pledge levels?
NEAL: Yes! We have just added a new “commission” level at the two hundred dollar pledge. He will make a custom tailored commission. Speaking as a guy who has several hanging in his own house, I can honestly say they’re quite a centerpiece for a geek like me. Plus you get the hardbacks and all the other goodies.
ANTHONY: How about for the book itself?
NEAL: We have an eight-page backup introducing an all-female group of Charlenes who will figure prominently in Year Four and Five. There’s a Filipina, several steampunk inspired designs, a black female Hank (Henrietta), and a few members that will likely surprise you. Let’s just say Mrs. Arntzen doesn’t always die.
The backup has been a lot of hard work while producing the regular pages, but it’s absolutely worth it, and probably one of the best arguments to get the trade or the PDFs.
ANTHONY: The print collections cover Year One and Two, but the webcomic is well into Year Three now. Has anyone come to CURA from reading the print editions first? Do you find a different reaction to the story (or characters, or pacing) between print-first readers and web-first readers? Or even a difference in reaction for people reading it in print after reading it as each page first appears online?
NEAL: Absolutely, in answer to both questions. People have come to print first through cons, and there is a huge reaction when people read it day-to-day as opposed to in a big stream, both in print and digitally.
The comic is written with a very known sense that days are passing between pages. The comic leaps a bit, and I have wrestled with it quite a bit. Some people are annoyed by it, but some love it. I stand by it, in that it is supposed to bring that feeling of jumping around in space and time that these characters are going through. That said, the story is becoming more and more linear as it moves on, perhaps as I learn, perhaps as the ending becomes more and more clear.
Either way, thankfully, I haven’t received any email from anyone calling it a pile of turds. The readership, to a man and woman, have all been incredibly kind and respectful and awesome.
ANTHONY: What is it about the story of Charlie Everett that resonates so well with fans?
NEAL: I’ve been told it’s the fact that he’s optimistic, and also the tension of whether or not he will become the Dark Everett, but I don’t want to speak for the audience and put words in their mouth. Maybe that’s just the things I’ve heard that I want to be true, and for other people it’s that he’s dreamy, or they love tweed, or hey, shout out to the guidance counselors out there who need representation!
That is my tongue firmly in cheek, for the record.
I can speak for myself. Charlie resonates for me because I wanted to write from the age of twelve, twenty long years ago now, and everywhere I went it was like that Dewey Cox movie, a parade of family encouraging me to have a fallback, get a job, stop being such a lazy waste. A relative said, I quote, that I contribute in no meaningful way to my family, doing what I do.
I disagree. And Charlie didn’t. Charlie thought people like that were right for so long, and he cast it off, and even better, he did it for himself. He found hope, he found courage, and through that power. That’s what I see in him, and that’s what makes me love him.
ANTHONY: What glimpse can you give us into the near future for the CURA cast?
NEAL: I’ll be cryptic, and maybe a little scary. A latin demon. Origins. The smell of the person you love the most. Power beyond reckoning in the hands of a madman. The explanation of that moon. Junior’s origin. The House of Cindy. God, now I’m getting creeped out. Soon!
ANTHONY: And a twist on my usual closing question: What is Charlie Everett’s favorite book, and what would he say to convince someone who hasn’t read it to convince them that they should?
NEAL: Charlie’s favorite book is Richard III, and he would say that one should read it because even though this man, Richard, in attempting to find his way, becomes a terrible villain because of how he is perceived, he also says one of the most important things any human being ever has in history:
“Shall I live in hope?”
Charlie does, and you should too.
You can follow Neal and Dex on Twitter @nealbailey @dexterwee. You can find the comic CURA TE IPSUM on the web. But most importantly, you can find the final days of the Kickstarter campaign and donate by CLICKING RIGHT HERE. If you decide to back, please leave a note here letting me know you did so.