A couple years ago, I chatted to writer/artist Ben Bishop regarding his innovative “Split Decision” graphic novel, THE AGGREGATE, as well as its successful Kickstarter campaign. Last night, while Ben was traveling to Emerald City Comic Con (ECCC) to show off his newly completed book, I was able to catch up with him to see how progress was going and to see which future endeavors were on the horizon.
HI-DEF NINJA: We’re going on two years since the Kickstarter campaign wrapped and you just completed work on THE AGGREGATE. How did that moment feel for you?
BEN BISHOP: Yeah, man, today is actually the exact 2-year anniversary of the launch of the Kickstarter and I happened to have just landed in Seattle for ECCC to pitch it around to some of my favorite creator-owned publishers. I’m holding four pitch versions of this thing and, dude, it’s crazy. What’s it feel like to be done? I still keep feeling like I should be drawing, or lettering, or writing, or something, but really, all that’s left to do for me is wait for the rest of the colored pages, which should be finished in less than a couple weeks, and keep checking over the Indesign book document looking for errors and finding ways to make it better and better.
What did it feel like? Pretty amazing. There were different completion milestones of course, though.
1) The Kickstarter funding. That was like I had just gone to WAR, which I’m sure sounds pretty ignorant to people who actually have been in or around a war, but it’s the closest thing I got and I’ve been saying it for 2 years, so leave me alone. I was on three different devices, social media-ing, thanking, sharing, etc. every single hour of the day for an entire month. It was too much, but I can’t wait to do it again…
2) The writing. That was a big milestone. Writing this book was a lot more difficult than anything I’d ever written before, not only because it was a Split Decision comic, but because I really had never written anything this big and the pressure was real. A lot of people were counting on me, and it became clear this was my one chance, so I needed to make it count. It was tough. When you have a bad day drawing, at least you have scrawls of crappy drawings crinkled up on the floor to show you were trying — but when you simply can’t find the words while writing and have nothing to show for all the hours that went by… that’s depressing. It all worked out eventually, though, and it was amazing having that solidified so I could finally get to drawing…
3) The roughs. I was so stoked to start the roughs, I flew through the first half of the book at like four pages a day. Four pencilled pages a day. That’s the fastest I’ve ever gone. Going down from the top of that mid point to the end of the book took quite some time longer, but when all 163 pages were done and I was able to print them out and staple the whole thing together, that was magical. I actually had a hard copy of the thing where I could see what pages would face each other in spreads, how thick it was, and I could test out the Split Decision story threads.
4) The finals. This was the big one. Going back to page 1 after the feeling of completion I got from all the roughs and essentially starting over, drawing the same thing again, but tighter and cleaner… also tough. Again I found that momentum in the beginning and eventually reached that place towards the middle where it felt like the pages might never end. It was like that ever-extending hallway in a horror movie, so I had to find a way to make myself feel better along the way. To trick my brain into a sense of celebration with every page. If you follow me online, you may have seen my insane personal studio. I actually printed out every single rough and covered all four walls and the ceiling of my studio so that when I finished the finals for a page, I could have that physical act of ripping down the rough as a reward. It was something to look forward to — getting up on my chair and pulling it off the ceiling felt really good after a long day at the desk. It also allowed me to look at all the pages at once and see what was what as far as story threads and “easy” pages vs. “hard” pages. When I finally finished the last page the other day, I posted online my little note in the margin “DONE” and my wife Jill came upstairs with a beer for me and I lifted her up to tear down the last single rough from the ceiling. We got a little misty eyed.
5) Lettering. Lettering was the quickest aspect of this entire project and honestly, until I send in the PDF to get printed, I’ll still be tweaking it and cleaning it up, but it was really great to see it actually as a comic for the first time. It’s not a real comic until there are words and images. Lettering only took me 9 days. (Laughs) I think I was still feeling that end of the project momentum and needed to just rally. So yeah… it all feels really good.
HDN: What an incredible story, man. So now that it’s complete, what’s the final page count and how many Split Decisions can readers look forward to?
BB: Right now, the PDF is 215 or 216 pages with all of the opening “how to Split Decision” intro, title page, etc., and the back end pin-ups, making-of, thank you’s… I believe the count for Split Decisions is three beginnings, four endings, and twenty-seven different decision threads throughout. But I know I was able to add some while I was lettering, so I haven’t done an official recount. Also, all those endings are beginnings for Book 2 and those threads then branch off and off and off, etc… Did I just say Book 2?
HDN: (Laughs) So, in the grand scheme of things, after THE AGGREGATE’s release, sequels/prequels are something that you’ve thought of?
BB: Oh, yes… Book 2. It’s already fully written. I sat down to write STAR WARS and I wrote at least A New Hope and Empire… there may even be some Jedi in there. Meaning, I wrote two books when i had meant to write one, and Book 2 is absolutely happening. Like I said, it picks up where Book 1 left off (in all threads) and travels along branching out even further and further. I can also tell you Book 2 currently has at least seven endings. I have ideas for more that I’m adding in as well. The plan, unless I can get THE AGGREGATE published by Image (Comics) or someone like that, is to Kickstart again, but this time I’ll have the whole writing step out of the way and hopefully a majority of the roughs as well. When I Kickstarted THE AGGREGATE originally, I only had 5 pages, 3 of which didn’t even make the cut into the final book, so I will have a much better lead on the workload next time.
HDN: That sounds ambitious, that’s for sure. Exciting, but definitely ambitious. How’s your collaboration with colorist Brittany Peer been going?
BB: Brittany has been outstanding, of course. When you see all the colored pages, you’ll see what I mean. I’m a massive control freak, so it was tough to let go of some control at first. That’s part of why I started making comics to begin with; you don’t really have to depend on anyone else to do it. That’s a big difference from work like animation, for example. But it pays to work with talented people. My dad is a musician and I heard him say once he always played with people better than him, so he would always learn and get better. So I’ve learned a thing or two from Brittany, I think.
If you didn’t know, I had always planned to color the book myself. Actually, originally, it was black and white, but when the Kickstarter reached the goal, I started piling on stretch goals and the book became full color. But I intended to color. When the calendar started disappearing behind me, it became clear that it would not only make the book better to have someone who specializes in coloring, but it would obviously also speed up the completion. So I hired a professional. I actually put out an update to my Kickstarter backers asking their opinions on me hiring a colorist rather than doing it myself, and the pros and cons since this wasn’t what I promised from the campaign. Everyone who chimed in basically said it was my call and they would love it either way, but someone said something I thought was cool: “Colorists need work, too.” And they were right. Brittany is already making a name for herself and getting too famous for me, but I’m hoping this book does great things for the both of our careers.
HDN: So even though you’ve completed your work on the book, how far off are we from seeing it in readers’ hands?
BB: Well, I obviously can’t say for certain, because obviously anything can happen, including shipping delays and whatnot, but… if all goes according to plan, they should be shipping out and arriving to backers in May 2017, so just a couple more months.
HDN: During the last two years, you’ve also been keeping busy over at IDW while working on covers for the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES comics. Did it recharge you to take those little breaks while working on THE AGGREGATE?
BB: I guess so. I wouldn’t call them breaks, though. I really never stopped working on THE AGGREGATE. You can ask my wife. Well, there was one Xmas where I discovered STAR WARS: BATTLEFRONT and lost a week of my life, but that was it. TMNT was amazing, and I want to do more. I think IDW knew I was really busy, though, and so that’s part of the reason it’s just been covers so far. I’m going to hound them for interiors once the book is off to the printers (and you should, too [smiles]), but yeah, it was nice to grow the fan base while working on the book. I’m telling you, there are no fans out there like Turtle Fans. They are hardcore and they will love you forever. The group of creators who have touched the property as well, it’s like I was welcomed into the brotherhood literally. Amazing people. Working on something other than THE AGGREGATE also allowed me to peek out of hermit mode and talk about something else, too, which was good.
HDN: Where does Ben Bishop go after THE AGGREGATE is finally out there? Do you have more independent stories in mind or do you think you’ll play a bit longer in the TMNT sandbox?
BB: Well, most immediately, I’m going to crush my commission list. It had piled up there for a while between cons and the end of THE AGGREGATE marathon where I worked on nothing else for 3 or so weeks, but it’s finally getting to a manageable number of pieces. Then I want to take a video game vacation… I’m going back to BATTLEFRONT; gotta download the ROGUE ONE stuff and see about Scariff. I’m also jonesin’ for HORIZON: ZERO DAWN. Even though that title is ridiculous, there are robot dinosaurs, so I mean… come on.
HDN: (Laughs) Agreed. Cool-looking game, but the name is definitely silly. What comes after the gaming?
BB: Then it’s reaching out to titles like TMNT and showing this new big portfolio of pages I just finished. It’s doing more conventions, selling the book. It’s pitching the book, ideally getting a creator-owned publisher to pick it up before I go to print, so we won’t have to reprint it all over again with their name on it. And of course, yes… THE AGGREGATE Book 2. I won’t be able to hold off too long. I’m dying to get back to this story already and I know as soon as people start finishing their read through(s) of Book 1, they will be bugging me to get to work.
HDN: And where can we go to follow more news on THE AGGREGATE’s eventual release and is there a tentative release date?
BB: You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter at @BISHART and THE AGGREGATE on Instagram at @THEAGGREGATEBOOK. There is a Facebook page for the graphic novel as well too at www.facebook.com/theaggregatecomic. Tentative release date is May 2017, if not sooner.
HDN: Thanks for your time, Ben, and good luck hunting down a creator-owned publisher this weekend!
If you’d like to chat about THE AGGREGATE and any other BISHART projects, check out the thread on the HDN forum here and chime in!