Tell us a little about yourselves; what makes you tick and what makes your publications tick?
Steve Higgins, Editor: Ink and Drink Comics is a collective of comic creators based in the STL area. We have monthly meetings on the third Tuesday of every month in the back room of Cicero’s on the Loop. These meetings are open to the public, and anyone in the area who is interested in making comics is welcome to come and just hang out if they want. It’s really about the socialization of meeting like-minded people, first and foremost. But we also produce two comics anthologies a year, one in the spring and one in the fall, that are themed around a particular genre and are open submission. Jason Green, Editor: our main goal is better art through community. Publishing short story anthologies as a group started as a lark, but we’ve seen how the sense of working together as a community–both in terms of encouraging each other and bouncing ideas off each other, and in the friendly competition that it fosters–has resulted in everyone in the group stepping up their game. It’s amazing to see how much writers and artists’ craft has improved by leaps and bounds in just a short amount of time.
Carlos Gabriel Ruiz, Creative Director: We have ink running through our veins. We love comics, love making comics, and love giving people an opportunity to pursue their dreams and get published.
What drew you to creating, publishing, editing and presenting your projects?
Carlos: necessity, which is the mother of invention and the father of circumstance. We had to make comics, and since it’s hard to get published, we just started publishing them ourselves.
Steve: Speaking for myself, I was writing and publishing my own mini-comics, trying desperately to find artists willing to work with me and working hard at putting the books together on my own. When I first heard about Ink and Drink having meetings and putting out a book, I realized how much easier it would be to produce comics if I had a pool of talented folk working alongside me.
What do you think of the relationship between publishing (what you do) and reaching an
audience of readers?
Jason: view it as a major part of our job. As the ones who shepherd the completed books into reality and help them around to conventions, we work hard to get the books into people’s hands so our creators can concentrate on creating.
Carlos: love going to conventions and meeting people, striking up a conversation with them, and seeing what they’re into. At this point, Ink and Drink has a book for everyone, and it’s our job as publishers to point the audience in the right direction. We couldn’t do what we do without the support of our audience, so going to cons, meeting our audience, and connecting with them is all a major part of what we do.
Can you tell us about your creative, editorial, and collaborative process?
Carlos: It all starts over a few beers…
Jason: Most of the collaborations happen at our “ink and drinks,” where we get together at Cicero’s in the U. City Loop to discuss what we’re working as well as just generally hang out and talk comics. One of the nice things about our group is that it’s as collaborative as people want it to be. Some people ask for feedback at every step in the process. Others just drop a finished story in our lap every six months. We are happy to be as unobtrusive as people want us to be.
Steve: As a creator, the degree of collaboration I have on the stories I do for Ink and Drink really runs the gamut. Sometimes I find a willing artist and hand them a completely finished script. Sometimes the artist and I bounce ideas back and forth, developing the story outline together before they go off and draw it and then I script dialogue in at the end. And sometimes an artist comes to me with a concept that I just kind of say “Uh, yeah sure, I’ll see what I can come up with.”
Jason: Editorially, our role is to make sure that the finished product looks professional, is readable and typo-free, flows well from story to story, and just generally meets our high quality standards. It’s a job we take very seriously.
Carlos: We are as involved in a story as the creators want us to be. Sometimes we pair the talent with each other, sometimes we help out with the production and lettering of a story, and sometimes we just sit back and watch the magic happen. We also pitch cover and back cover ideas to our artists or work with them to fully realize their ideas. Collaborating with all of the contributors is the best part (the fun thing) about the job. Our “real” work starts as soon as we have all of our submissions for a book in hand — then we can design the logo, pick out the story order, and actually create the book.
How did you get into working with small press publishing?
Jason: As Carlos said, at first it was necessity. No one else wanted us so we just did itourselves. After a few years of that, we invited some friends to do a single group book together just for the heck of it, it outsold anything we had ever done individually, and our current incarnation as Ink and Drink Comics was born.
Carlos: It really was a no-brainer. We already made the comics, so if no one else wanted to publish them, then we’d just do it ourselves. Once you have a comic book made, putting a book out is easy. Pitching the idea for a horror anthology to all of my friends and friends-of-friends and having everyone say “Yes” was the real start.
What advice would you give to someone starting a small press or publishing project?
Carlos: he only reason to get into small press publishing is because of love. If you don’t love the medium, if you don’t love creating things, if you don’t love connecting with audiences and bringing something new into the world to life, then small press publishing isn’t for you. Because at the end of the day the margins are so thin, you have to love doing it because sometimes that’s the only reward you’re going to get out of it.
Steve: I tell people all the time that we don’t make any money making these books. But we do usually break even. And as time has gone on, it has gotten easier for us to break even. That’s about the level of success most people ever have with self-publishing, and personally, I’m pretty ok with that.
How long have you been at it (by “it” I mean publishing)?
Carlos: Non officially since 2003. We’ve all been creating zines and minicomics to sell at stores and give away at cons since then. Officially, since 2009. Our parent publisher, Brain Cloud Comics, was set up in 2009 to publish independent comic books. Ink and Drink Comics was set up the following year to publish the genre anthologies put together by the sketch group turned comics collective, Ink and Drink Comics.
Stev: The first book we did, Spirits of St. Louis, debuted in September/October of 2010. Carlos and Jason worked alongside the original third member of their editorial triumverate, Bryan Hollerbach, to ensure that this horror book came together. And once it came out, and we all enjoyed working together so much, and the book sold so well, they decided to do another book the following spring. And it kind of snowballed from there. Hollerbach moved from the area in 2012, and they asked me to then step up and fill his role as an editor starting with our fifth book, Hammered.
Carlo: Six years later we have 14 books and 5 mini-comics to our name, with more coming on the way…
What would you have told your younger self about what you are doing? and What do you
hope your older self might tell the you of today?
Jason: Don’t overreach. It’s a common for creators just starting out to want to do their 10,000 chapter magnum opus, but of course being a young person collaborating with other young people where you all suffer from fluctuating levels of motivation, something that big is hopeless. Of course, plenty of actual people gave Young Jason that advice and he didn’t listen so I’m not sure me telling him would have saved him the agony of those oh-so-many projects that never quite took off. And I hope my older self tells me that what I’ve done has had impact. It’s certainly amazing looking back at the sheer volume of comics that we’ve helped shepherd into the world–1200 pages and counting, none of which likely would have existed had Ink and Drink never existed. But we’re still just trying to get from book to book. It’s hard to read what our ultimate impact will be.
Carlos: If I had told my younger self that I’d be making comics as an adult, I think young me would have been over the moon (I would casually leave out the fact that the majority of those comics were not superhero comics because why ruin it, right?).
Stev: The advice I’d give a younger version of myself is the same I give to any budding writer, be it the new creators who come to our meetings or the students whose English papers I assess in my day job: just keep writing. The more you do it, the better you will get at it, until it almost comes naturally. You will make mistakes along the way, and that’s ok as long as you learn from them. There’s a reason why little league starts with tee-ball; you’ve got to learn the fundamentals of the swing before you can ever knock it out of the park. But you will get better if you just keep at it.
Other than your own projects, what are some other presses and publications that inspire you
to keep reading and supporting the small press community?
Jason: We just returned from the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland, and you can’t help but feel inspired when you see the sheer breadth of material available in the comics world…everything from hand-stapled self-published minicomics to the literary-minded graphic novels published by companies like Top Shelf and Drawn & Quarterly to the doorstop-sized objets d’art that Fantagraphics publishes. And as someone who likes working in quote-unquote “genre” stories, the success of Image shows that there is a sizable audience out there for quality material that isn’t just superheroes. Looking at the entire comics landscape, it’s clear that if you’re passionate about your art and have something to say, there is an audience out there for it. It’s our inspiration to keep doing what we’re doing and find that audience.
Steve: I’m also very inspired when I look around St. Louis at the amazing comics work coming out of here at present. You have people working in the mainstream producing some great work, like Matt Kindt, Cullen Bunn, and Brian Hurtt. You have people working on their own brilliant independent projects for smaller publishers like Dan Zettwoch, Kevin Huizenga, and Sacha Mardou. You have people self-publishing or doing webcomics like Ray Nadine and Rori, phenomenally talented folk. Even amongst our group, there are a slew of people working on trying to get their own solo projects off the ground. They’ll show off their work at meetings and I can’t help but be in awe. We at Ink and Drink are truly blessed to be a small part of such a thriving and talented artistic community in this city.
Anything else you want to say?
Carlos: Every day that I get to wake up and make comics is a great day! I love making comics and am thankful and a little blown away at how big Ink and Drink Comics has gotten. It started with about 5 people drinking beer and drawing at an Applebees in 2008, and today we’ve had over 100 contributors who have participated in at least one of our books. The best part about it is every book has better than the previous book!