Dan Rafter is a freelance writer and editor. He's also the author of GEARZ, a new comicbook mini-series to be published in early 2008 by BlueWater Comics.View all articles by Dan Rafter
Mark Ellis and Melissa Martin-Ellis aren’t just husband and wife, they’re business partners, too. Mark, a writer, and Melissa, a graphic designer and writer, are working together to create a line of graphic novels under their Millennial Concepts imprint. The couple, who make their home in Rhode Island, has also written The Everything Guide to Writing Graphic Novels, which will be released by Adams Media this December.
What’s it like working with your spouse? Firefox News recently interviewed the couple to find out.
Firefox News: What can you tell us about your recent projects?
Mark: There is the Death Hawk: The Soulworm Saga graphic novel, which compiles all the Death Hawk stories by myself, Adam Hughes and Rik Levins into one volume. It’s a 128-page trade paperback with a beautiful cover by Darryl Banks and Melissa, as well as a foreword by N.Y. Times best-selling author Douglas Clegg. (You can see a preview of this book here:
Not only is it a solidly entertaining TPB, it also has a degree of historical significance. It features the earliest work by Adam Hughes, including his first full-length comics story
Over the next few months, we’ll be coming out with a few more graphic novels: Nosferatu: Plague of Terror, The Miskatonic Project, Lakota and The New Justice Machine. (You can see snippets of these projects at http://www.comicspace.com/markaxlerellis/.
FFN: What can you tell us about The Everything Guide to Writing Graphic Novels?
Melissa: In it, we discuss the steps anyone wanting to produce a graphic novel should consider before beginning.
Mark: We cover all aspects of graphic novel production and present it in easy-to-understand methods, which wasn’t all that easy considering how complicated the production of any publication can be. There is a lot of art in it, by people like Jim Mooney, Don Heck, Adam Hughes, Darryl Banks and many others.
FFN: What inspired you to create a how-to book? What do you hope the book accomplishes?
Melissa: Our agent at Talcott Notch Literary Agency, Gina Panettieri, came to us with the project in the fall of last year and asked if we’d be interested. Since we had built Millennium Publications from the ground up in the early ‘90s, we felt we’d be able to do the topic justice. It was a lot of fun collaborating on it.
Mark: It was more of a problem deciding what to leave out of the book. Although the comics field has changed considerably since the 1990s — and not necessarily for the better — the improvements in technology have now made producing a graphic novel much easier.
FFN: What are some of the tips in the book that writers and artists hoping to break into the comics industry might not know?
Mark: If you’re hoping to break into comics as either a scripter or a penciler, then simple persistence is the key. It’s not enough to be as good or better than the people already working as professionals. You have to get somebody in a position of authority to recognize it. That’s not always easy.
We still shake our heads when we remember how we had to overrule our former partner in Millennium in order to give Mike Wieringo his first assignment. Our partner hated his work, didn’t think it was “good enough.
Melissa: If you want to self-publish, the sheer amount of pre-planning and organization, not to mention capital, that is required. It is extremely costly and labor-intensive to produce a graphic novel, or even a comic. Anyone undertaking it should be prepared for long hours and a thousand logistical issues.
FFN: Why do you think so many people do want to break into the comics business right now? What are some of the biggest mistakes these new creators make?
Melissa: We are seeing an explosion of comic properties on the big screen, and it gives people something to aspire to. If you love comics and have creative abilities that match the industry, why wouldn’t you be attracted to comics as the means of making a living? It seems a natural segue. Unfortunately, tenacity and persistence are not always congruent with creativity. It is hard to break in, and the ability to stick to a schedule, as well as being very talented is a necessity.
Very few people actually possess the skill set to make it through to entry level. The horrible catch phrase “Don’t quit your day job” comes to mind.
FFN: Here’s the big question: What is it like working with your spouse? Do your skill sets complement each other? If so, how?
Melissa: I love working with Mark. Well … usually. Our skills mesh perfectly. He is a writer with artistic leanings. I am an artist who writes. I have years of experience in the graphic design and advertising fields. He has years of experience as a writer and journalist. At home, we both have our own offices to retreat to if need be. He is such a perfectionist that he pushes me to be a better designer and artist. He is such a good writer that I am in awe of his abilities. I have never worked with anyone for whom I have more respect.
Mark: We’ve been collaborating for most of our lives on one thing or another, including child-rearing, so we get our best work done that way.
FFN: Can you share with me a little about the way you and your wife broke into comics? Was it a long road? What are some of the reasons that you've found success in this industry?
Melissa: Mark broke in before I did. He worked as a comic scripter in the late ‘80s, and I was a freelance graphic designer. Then in 1990, we co-founded Millennium and I found myself applying my graphics skills to another aspect of publishing, comics.
Mark: I had done a few things here and there in comics. However in 1986-87, I was a columnist and writer for a very slick yet sadly short-lived magazine about the comics field called Four-Color. (Back issues occasionally show up on Ebay). Through Four-Color, I met a couple of comics publishers, Adventure Publications, for one.
I ended up writing four of Adventure’s five monthly titles and creating Star Rangers and Death Hawk. After that, I worked for Innovation and ended up so disgusted with the way they did business, I figured Melissa and I, with our combined backgrounds in publication production, could do far better.
And, hey, we did.
FFN: What is the most rewarding aspect of working in comics?
Melissa: My favorite moment is when the book arrives and you hold it in your hands for the first time. The feeling is indescribable, a mixture of elation and fear. You’re apprehensive, in fear of some sort of production screw-up that will make you look like an idiot, but you’re dying to see what it looks like when presented as a complete package.
Mark: The most rewarding aspect of working in comics was collaborating with artists. That’s the main thing I miss about working in the comics field fulltime. I still have fond memories about working with Jim Mooney, Darryl Banks, Don Heck, Franc Reyes and a couple of others.
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