In Case You Missed It: My First Interview

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*The following is a reprint of an interview I did with Richard Caldwell for his website, The Lottery Party, earlier this year. The site’s since been taken down, but it covered a lot of ground on me and TEMPLATE so I wanted to repost it for Kickstarter backers or anyone who missed it in general the first time around. Enjoy! 

Did you start writing when you were young, or did that itch come later on in life?

This one definitely requires a little bit of backstory. I’ve been writing in some form or fashion since high school, but up until 2008 it wasn’t anything creative aside from a horrible spec script that I didn’t put any effort into in college. Growing up, I was dead set on covering video games or sports so journalism was ultimately the path I pursued. That took a bit of a swerve when the work I did on one of my blogs landed me a job at local video game studio as a QA Tester.

Three months into that, our studio got the iCarly license and on a whim, I threw my name in the ring to write it just to see if I could. Our project manager and Nickelodeon liked that, so I was put in charge of writing the whole game as well as designing a story around the mechanics. Working on that unveiled a big time itch I didn’t even realize I had, as I suddenly discovered that I loved writing characters and telling a story. And, unlike the spec script from college, this was a very real thing going out to the world so it made me want to step up and put out the best story I could. That made all the difference. From then on, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

In these gloriously unstable economic times, creative industries seem to be hurting as much as any other field. But that doesn’t hurt the numbers of folks driving hard to to get their ideas out there. What would you say is the appeal of working in any creative industry, now more than ever?

The appeal and downfall are one in the same to me, in that it’s easier than ever to get your work out there for people to see. Because of that, it’s much harder to get noticed without an endorsement or “co-sign” from someone/thing with an established following. Maybe you get lucky and go viral, but that’s a one in a million thing you shouldn’t depend on. But, if you’re willing to put in the work and can set up a solid infrastructure, creators in just about every field have all the tools they need to publish their own work and do things on their own terms. And that’s an extremely gratifying thing.

I know you’re an active gamer, and actually have stacked up some impressive credits in the gaming industry prior to turning your sights to comics. What job are you most proud of thus far? Where would you like to see game platforms go in say, five years time? I mean, can portable devices really compete with home entertainment systems?

My first game, iCarly Mobile, is still the one I’m most proud of on that side of the fence. Aside from some minimum guidelines from Nickelodeon and having to work within the mechanics of the gameplay, I pretty much had free reign to do what I wanted with that story and had a blast working on it.

It’s funny you ask me the second part of that question as this year’s E3 is kicking off and we’re just now starting to see the new consoles. I think we’re very quickly getting to the point where graphics and power aren’t going to mean as much as gameplay innovation and I’m definitely all for that. If this current generation is any indication, the latest round of systems will still be kicking as the primary platforms in five years and possibly longer than that. I don’t necessarily think portable devices will have to compete if cloud computing and (fingers crossed) broadband caps improve over time. The real competition to me is going to be the battle of the ecosystems. Making sure the things you buy are compatible with the other things you buy, regardless of the company/platform, is huge for me going forward and I think whoever gets that will be setting themselves up for success.

Your first big comics effort is the highly original Template web-series, which you are producing for free. Where exactly did that premise come from? And was it difficult finding the right creative partners, being your first real comic book endeavor?

I originally approached Andres to work together last summer. Not too long after I finished up the Light of Dawn pitch, actually. I came to him about wanting to work on this superhero pitch that I had, but after looking at his art more I quickly shelved that idea and basically asked him what he wanted to draw. He told me he wanted to do something cyberpunk related, so I took that, along with some of his previous art he provided as a reference, and created a new story idea that I thought was more tailored to both of our strengths.

On my side of it, I have to go back to gaming for a bit. I’m a huge Metal Gear Solid fan, and one of my favorite characters in that entire franchise is The Boss. She’s only really featured in one game, but her impact on the events of the mythology is undeniable. The idea of the most influential character of the story not even being in it was an angle I thought would be very cool to play with, and the thought of using her as the basis of replication instead of Big Boss even more so. Other things like Nikita and 24 were influences too, but Andres adding the cyberpunk aspect to it opened up the potential to do a lot more cool stuff with the world/characters.

And yeah, the big challenge for me has been convincing collaborators to take a shot on this model in general. The majority of them have turned me down, which makes me grateful everyday for Andres, Nathan and MaGnUs having the faith to see this through. This is a true creative “team” in every sense of the word and I don’t take any of them for granted. This doesn’t happen at all without them.

Team TEMPLATE

Is Template a finite tale, or could you go on plotting it forever and ever?

The story we’re telling right now is intended to be finite and standalone, and if we stay on schedule it will wrap up in the fall sometime. Depending on how things work out, there will definitely be room to tell more stories in this world down the line.

In light of your education and your background in games, you really seem like a writer who’s custom-ready for multi-platforms and cross-branding. Do you dream of taking your projects into alternate mediums, or are certain stories better suited for distinct presentations?

It all depends on the story, honestly. I’ll say this, though. When I come up with ideas, I’m doing so specifically with the strengths of the medium in mind, so all of my comics ideas are tailored for that. If it happens to work across mediums, then yeah, I’d definitely like to do that and expose my stuff to as many people as possible.

Related to that, that’s also why I chose to go with the name QAM Comics. Most would think it’s simply a reference to my name and they’d only be half right. It’s also a nod to QAM Modulation, and the idea of using multiple signals to increase the strength of all of them. To me, using every medium possible makes the message stronger.

So my name is quite literally my brand, and my brand is my philosophy.

You have a crowd-sourcing campaign in progress for Light of Dawn, which is a very different setup from Template. Is this more of a personal story for you?

Not any more so than my other stories. As much as I love to play with fantasy and sci-fi concepts in my work, I always make sure to have some kind of tether to reality to keep it grounded and relatable in some aspect. In Template and Light of Dawn’s case, they’re both similar in regards to having themes of legacy. How they go about that couldn’t be more different, but it’s definitely there if you’re looking for it.

Admittedly, you haven’t always had the best of luck with crowd-funding, although the projects have always looked sound, and you have contributed to more campaigns than you have launched, which sets a positive example. Do you feel that campaigning is the new fact of life, or might the entire process see its day in coming years?

In today’s creative landscape, yeah, there’s no denying that. Doing whatever you think you can do to get your name out there is just as important, if not more, as actually doing the project. It’s just how it is now. And that’s directly tied to an earlier question you asked about this industry’s appeal. Everybody’s voice can be heard now, so making sure you have a plan to place yours above all the noise is critical.

I think Template proves you mean serious business, from its consistency in scheduling and quality to the video side-chapters, you seem to like thinking outside of boxes. Is doing your own thing important to you, or would you ever sign off for a Spider-Man run?

It’s extremely important to me that I’m doing my own thing as it relates to my projects, and that I’m always working on my own projects. That said, I look up to and admire writers like Jonathan Hickman, Brian Michael Bendis and others who do a great job at balancing their own projects and having a team of their “guys” to frequently work with on indie projects, alongside the corporate stuff. At the end of the day, it all ties into your brand. So yeah, if Marvel, DC, IDW, Dynamite or anybody approached me and asked me to pitch on one of their books I’d definitely do it. All of those companies have characters that I grew up loving and still regard highly to this day, so it’s just another one of those itches I hope to scratch.

Much of your writing has a very cinematic feel to it. What was the last truly great movie you watched? What was the worst?

Best? Lincoln. Everybody knows what happens at the end, but it did a great and entertaining job at chronicling the journey. And Daniel Day-Lewis, of course.

Worst? Resident Evil: Retribution. No. Just no.

Quinton, you rock and we at the LP wish the very best for you in all that you do.

You rock even more for interviewing me, Richard! Thanks so much for taking the time and for the well wishes!