I met Jimmy Wahl a few years ago on a comic book website. He went by a different name back then, but he was funny, knowledgeable, and quick. A few years later, he and I worked for a different comic book site as the editorial team, writing and selecting content to post for the small audience of the site, which was mostly composed of friends from other sites. It was during this period that I got to know Jimmy pretty well, and additionally, I got a chance to really read some of his writing.
I knew he was interested in writing comic books. He had told all of us as much a few times. But, I never got a chance to read any of his comic scripts. He never offered them, and I never asked. Our friendship was a professional one, and we kept our discussions on writing focused purely on the reviews and articles we wrote for the site.
This is one of the reasons I’m so excited to talk about Soulbinder. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a fantastic, dark comic book featuring a gritty atmosphere and intriguing story. But, additionally, it’s like seeing the culmination of a dream my friend has long had.
Soulbinder #1 is the first of five issues, all of which Jimmy plans to publish in the next year. The story is excellently-paced, with a healthy dose of intrigue, mystery, and suspense. The comic opens with a woman giving birth. The infant is stillborn with a crescent-shaped scar on its cheek, and as the mother watches in horror, its body is stolen by a mysterious figure. The entire opening sequence is shown using next to no dialogue, aided greatly by the bold linework of artist, Aaron Bolduc. Bolduc’s lines are heavy and black, heavily contrasted by large amounts of white space and a touch of grey here and there. The art itself aids in the mystery, creating the dark and gritty atmosphere that pervades the rest of the comic.
The story jumps ahead twenty years after that, and we the reader see the rest of the story play out. We see a cop named Tim investigate a murder, which he believes may be linked to similar crimes from twenty years ago. In the first issue, we aren’t told the connection between the birth in the opening pages and the murders in the second half, but that only adds to the intrigue. From the get-go, the first issue of Soulbinder creates a series of mysteries that beg to be solved, and I for one am excited to see it play out.
But, as excited as I am for the story of the comic book, I am also excited by the story behind the comic book. Like other creators, this has been a long process for Jimmy. “I’ve been working on the project in earnest for about 18 months, but the story and characters have existed in some form for years in my head and notebooks,” he says. It started as a character created for a website featuring a fantasy wrestling league.
“In my teen years I participated in online wrestling federations, which for those unfamiliar with what that is, it was a bunch of amateur, and often teenaged, writers coming up with wrestling matches and story lines infinitely better than the current stuff being televised by WWE. I spent most of my time writing a comedic tag team named Alcoholics Unanimous with a friend, but created a darker character for a change of pace. The darker character, which was called The Unknown up until a few months ago when I learned that Mark Waid has a series under that same name, grew on me and I developed it until it became what it is now, The Soulbinder.”
As an independent creator, Jimmy joins the ranks of countless others who have toiled away over the years with great personal investment to create something they’re passionate about.
It’s the story of independent comic books, and one I care about deeply. Independent comic books have existed for decades in some form or another, and they’ve run the gamut from brilliant and historically relevant to weird and twisted, sometimes all within the same book. They are always a labor of love, and the creators themselves are rarely motivated by a desire to get rich or be famous, but rather, they are motivated by the opportunity to tell a story that they want to tell, and have that story reach an audience.
It’s one of the reasons Jimmy chose Kickstarter to fund his comic. “I used Kickstarter for the purpose of extending the reach of the comic from the start,” he says, and he’s certainly not alone in this choice. “Kickstarter has something like 35 comic projects funded monthly, which, in an abstract way, makes them one of the largest comic publishers.”
As a whole, crowdfunding has changed the face of independent comics in much of the same way the Internet did twenty years ago. In the decades previous, independent comic books usually struggled to find an audience, often being relegated to comic shops local to the creator, and even then, they were usually glossed over by the mainstream books by DC and Marvel. There were some exceptions, of course. Bone and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles certainly come to mind. On the Internet, however, independent comic book creators could connect with fans across the country in ways they’d never been able to before, and that was a wonderful thing. It still is.
And crowdfunding sites, like Kickstarter, have only made that wonderful thing even better. By tapping into that increased pool of potential fans, creators can now fund their comic books and reach an even greater audience. Fans get new comic books from the creators they love, and creators get an opportunity to keep making comics, while reducing their initial investment. Everybody in this scenario wins.
It’s not a perfect system, of course. A lot of crowdfunding campaigns sometimes come down the whims of a fickle public. “I went in with tempered expectations,” Jimmy says. “I knew that Soulbinder wasn’t something that could match the magnificence of potato salad, so I didn’t expect to raise $50,000.” Still, he worked hard and advertised his campaign to friends and family, and ultimately it paid off: Soulbinder was funded within 30 days, and Jimmy sent the comic off to the printer immediately.
“The one thing that I can’t stress enough is that the comic should be ready to go to print the moment the money hits your bank account,” Jimmy says. “The biggest complaint of anyone backing a project is having to wait for their reward. Once your campaign ends start getting quotes from printers and getting everything ready to go out.”
On the whole, independent comic books are never going to die. As a labor of love, creators will continue to create them, regardless of the process they use. I love crowdfunding, though, because it makes the process easier, and anything that increases the presence of independent voices within the comic book industry is something that should be praised.
Here at Ideal Comics, we love the inherent idea of independent comic books casting off the shackles of the industry and going forth alone. When we started this company almost a decade ago, that was what we were trying to do. It’s why we funded our comic books ourselves and decided against distributing through Diamond Comics, often opting to talk to local stores ourselves. I still remember writing a personal letter to comic book shops around the country asking them to carry Zing Comics #1, and even getting a few issues onto shelves. It was a great feeling to see an idea we had worked so hard to produce finally come to fruition.
And when that idea results in a comic book that is as good, and fun, and intriguing as Soulbinder is, it’s even better. I’m excited to see where Soulbinder goes from here. Not just because I’m friends with Jimmy, and not just because I’m a fan of independent comics, but really, because I’m a fan of good stories, and Soulbinder – at least the first issue – fits that bill.
If you would like to pick up a copy of Soulbinder #1, you have a number of ways to do so. The comic will be available at New England Comics locations in Massachusetts beginning on October 15. Jimmy also intends to publish the comic on Comixology, though he doesn’t yet have a date for that (follow him on Twitter @JimmyWahl for updates). Lastly, he says, you can contact him by email to purchase a copy from him directly.