Getting to Know … Joe Frankenstein

With the hulking Bane, who was last seen going toe-to-toe with Batman in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, writer Chuck Dixon and artist/writer Graham Nolan have experience creating a memorable comic book monster. But now, the comic book duo is teaming back up to put their own spin on a classic monster. But they are doing it using a very modern business model.

Dixon and Nolan are currently working on a 120-page graphic novel entitled Joe Frankenstein. The graphic novel is a modern twist on Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein science fiction story.

“Graham is just crazy about the Universal monsters,” said Dixon. “I like them too. I grew up with them as a kid, watching Chiller Theatre and stuff like that.”

“I was working on an idea called Doc Frankenstein,” Nolan recalled. ”Frankenstein’s descendant as Doc Savage was my original idea.”

However, after doing some digging, Nolan discovered that The Wachowskis had already used the title Doc Frankenstein. That discovery left him scrambling to find a way to salvage his idea.

“I was talking to Chuck and was telling him my dilemma and everything. I said, ‘They’re using the name there. I can’t just call him Joe Frankenstein,’” said Nolan. “There was this long pause and he said, ‘Why not? That’s a great name.’”

From there, Nolan began tinkering with his original concept and the two came up with an outline of what Joe Frankenstein would be.

“[Graham] came up with the concept of this young 17-year-old slacker who finds out that he’s heir to the Frankenstein legacy,” said Dixon. “Not only that, but the monster’s been a guardian angel hanging around watching over him his whole life and he never knew it.”

Nolan’s original Doc Frankenstein idea came to him in 2006. He and Dixon have been working on the writing of Joe Frankenstein together for the last few years. It was in April of this year that Nolan finally decided to start drawing it.

“When you do comics, the writing is easy,” admitted Dixon. “I write some crazy, insane stuff, but Graham’s got to draw it. So it had to wait until he could clear time on his schedule. A few months ago, he just said, ‘Screw it. I just want to commit to getting it done. I’m tired of waiting, let’s just go ahead and put it together.’”

To cover the overhead of the project, they’ve turned to the crowdfunding site Indiegogo. It’s a new frontier for two old school comic book guys, but one that is necessary for them to do creator-driven projects in this ever-changing economic landscape.

“The publishing paradigm has changed since the years when we were first breaking into the business,” said Nolan. “When you create something that you’re going to own, there’s no publishers out there anymore that are going to pay you page rates or advances on royalties or anything like that and still let you own it.”

“I don’t mind working for the companies, but the companies are less and less likely in this economy to take a look at creator-owned stuff,” added Dixon. “Twenty years ago, we could have sold this in a dozen places and the publisher would have picked up the tab. But now, a lot of them will be more likely to pick up a project if you’ve picked up the lion’s share of the expenses.”

Right now, Nolan is balancing drawing Joe Frankenstein with the Rex Morgan, M.D. comic strip, which he draws for King Features. The daily comic strip appears in over 300 newspapers in the United States and is syndicated in 14 different countries, with an estimated 30 million readers. It takes Nolan around three-and-a-half days each week to draw Rex Morgan, M.D.. The rest of the time, including Saturdays, he devotes to drawing Joe Frankenstein.

The duo secured a publishing deal with Idea + Design Works (IDW) Publishing. The company has agreed to handle the lettering, coloring and formatting of the comic, but they didn’t give Nolan and Dixon any kind of advance or help with their overhead. In order to “keep the lights on,” they two turned to crowdfunding.

“Comics are kind of going the way of the music business,” said Dixon. “I know [publishers] would like them to go the way of the movie business, but that’s not happening. They’re going the way of the music business where it’s this boutique market where if you can find enough fans or enough readers, you can make a project work. You keep your costs down and if it’s not going through a major publisher with enormous overhead and everything else, you can make a living.”

Adjusting to the new landscape has been hard for two guys who first starting collaborating on comics together back in the 1980s.

“For young guys just starting out, this is a great environment,” said Dixon. “But for guys like me and Graham, who have been at it for years and years, you expect it to get easier but it doesn’t. We don’t run on youth and enthusiasm anymore.”

After a pause, Dixon reconsidered his answer.

“Well, I think Graham runs on a lot of enthusiasm,” Dixon added. “He’s one of the most enthusiastic guys I’ve ever met. But you can’t rely on that entirely.”

The two are hoping Joe Frankenstein is a success so that they can continue to work together on it and other creator-owned projects. Nolan and Dixon really enjoy collaborating with one another and are hoping crowdfunding will afford them the opportunity to continue to do so.

“We have the same sensibilities when it comes to many things, and in particular, what makes good comics. We met each other at the beginning of our careers and have been friends ever since,” said Nolan.

“We just see things the same way. We like the same kind of comics and we share a lot of the same philosophies of storytelling and things like that,” said Dixon. “It’s a collaborative field and when you have fun collaborating so much with the other person, you kind of want to keep doing that.”

Joe Frankenstein’s Indiegogo campaign will continue to run until November 22. There are a number of different donating tiers, each with their own perks like a signed copy of the graphic novel, a Joe Frankenstein t-shirt and even a character in the story named after the donor.

More importantly, if the fundraising campaign is a success, it will have created an unstoppable monster in Nolan and Dixon, who are certainly poised to take the publishing industry by storm.

Written by Joel Murphy. For more information on Joe Frankenstein, visit the official site. To donate to the project, visit Joe Frankenstein’s Indiegogo page.

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