I grew up reading classic comic books, and I must admit that I'm a big fan of the upsurge in popularity of comic-based TV shows and movies over the past couple decades or so. Comics are about heroes who are regular guys, too, and while they might sometimes paint good and evil as stark contrasts to each other, they are a beautiful combination of amazing art and kick-ass writing. I'm glad that the creative form has gained the recognition that it deserves.
I recently had the great pleasure of delving into the world of comics with a very informative chat with Omar Spahi. CEO and founder of OSSM Comics, Omar Spahi, has also written Xenoglyphs, Thaniel, and the recently released Separators. A comic creator with retail and business experience, running a successful real estate agency and working with management at HI DE HO Comics in Santa Monica, Omar has proven that he’s driven, talented, and passionate.
His goal is to find other creative people like himself and bring original ideas to the proverbial table. It’s hard to be innovative these days, but Omar knows there are many untapped talents in the world, making it his mission to find them and bring, through them, the best in indie comic books.
Omar has produced numerous web series, including the upcoming Sons of the Devil with New York Times Best Selling Author, Brian Buccellato (Flash, Detective Comics). With successful comics and now a sure-to-be hit series under his belt, Omar continues his conquests into other media in hopes to keep OSSM growing.
Thanks for joining me, Omar! Superheroes always have their origin stories, so let's start with the origin story of Omar Spahi. How did you get started? Did you always want to write comics?
Thanks for having me, Alison! Super pumped to be here with you. I didn't know writing comics was even a thing until I was out at dinner one night and I was talking to me about comics and told me about different creative teams on comics. From that moment on, I decided I was making my own comics.
OSSM Comics has released many popular titles and series since its inception in 2012 and seems to be growing by leaps and bounds. What's the story behind the decision to found your own independent comic company?
OSSM Comics was made in large part, because no one would put out my books. I never knew it would take on a life of its own when I founded it. I've been fortunate to know some of the best minds in comics and have them partner with me to create over 10 amazing projects through OSSM Comics.
How many individual issues have you written or have you lost count at this point? How has your writing process changed from your first issue to now, with so many publications under your belt?
At this point for Xenoglyphs, I've written 18 issues. But for all the other titles combined, I've lost count. My process has changed a ton and not at all. I still outline all my scripts before writing them and do breakdown, but I've evolved when it comes to characters emotions and plot points.
Xenoglyphs is the project that first launched OSSM Comics, and it's a project that you've returned to today. You're currently running a Kickstarter to complete the series for its many fans. What is Xenoglyphs about and what were the inspirations and influences behind its creation?
Wow. So many inspirations, I grew up a huge fan of Dragonball, the comic and animated series, Captain Planet, Batman the Animated Series and comics like the Flash were all huge inspirations for me.
Xenoglyphs is about these 2 best friends that travel the world to stop these nine different elemental stones from fall into the wrong hands. Steven and Dom are on a mission to solve the mysterious disappearance of what happened to Steven’s parents. It takes place around the world and follows different mysteries and uncovers conspiracies.
Xenoglyphs not only spans the world, but it contains a varied cast of characters. Especially today, this is a topic that has become highly publicized. Was diversity/globality one of the goals you had in mind when you first conceptualized the comic?
The goal was just to show people around the world as they are, it was never meant to be differences for difference's sake, it was just a real honest reflection of humanity.
I especially love the artwork on the action sequences, which is phenomenal. PJ Catacutan's artwork seems like the perfect fit for the storyline. How did you come to team up with him?
We met on Deviantart, it's sort of Facebook for artists. I loved his art style and he has grown and evolved so much as an artist. It still blows my mind. I couldn't be luckier to have such an awesome partner for Xenoglyphs.
According to ICv2 and Comichron, both print and digital comic sales are booming, even though sales growth has slowed within the past couple years. One thing you're planning on doing after the Kickstarter for Xenoglyphs is successful is to transition the series from hard copy to online. What prompted you to make this change? Is this what you see as the future of comics?
Honestly, I'm a huge fan of printed comics, but they're very hard to sell in stores with printing costs so high. I think transitioning to online is much easier and can give easier access to the fans. And it's all about the fans and making sure we tell the best story we can. The future of comics I believe is a mix between both, I love collecting comics and I love the digital read anywhere model as well. I think we live in a world where options for both are perfect.
I completely agree - I think it's great how many options there are for fans nowadays to enjoy their favorite characters, who have also been brought to life in popular films, TV shows and video games. You were recently involved with Code 8, a sci-fi film scheduled to be released this year. After your experience as executive producer, do you see yourself being interested in translating Xenoglyphs to a new medium, such as film or TV?
Absolutely, the main reason I got involved in Code 8 was to take my comics to the next level. Code 8 was such an amazing experience and I learned so much from the process. Xenoglyphs is my baby, and I won't rest until I find a way to take it into another form. It's always been a dream of mine.
Once Xenoglyphs is done, what's next on the horizon for you and OSSM Comics?
The plan is always to take what we have and nurture them and grow them into the next medium. The plan to grow what we've created and really do something special.
What advice would you have for aspiring comic book writers?
That's an awesome questions. I always ask this as the final question on my show. Here's the truth.
It takes time and work to break in, make as many comics as you can, learn how to master your craft. Find any way at all to work with people who have already been published at DC/Marvel or Image because once you become an associated act people begin to know your name. Keep pushing even when you feel like giving up. There's not a lot of money in comics, so if you're doing it for that, you're going to be disappointed, but if you love comics, you'll love your life.
Omar, thank you so much for chatting with me!
The pleasure is all mine.
If you like what you've seen of Xenoglyphs, the Kickstarter for Xenoglyphs ends on March 1st, and they are within spitting distance of their goal.
If you'd like to see the finished series, there are some fantastic rewards for backers, including both print and digital copies of Xenoglyphs, custom artwork by PJ Catacutan, getting drawn into the comics as a background character, comic writing lessons with Omar, and even the opportunity to be directly involved in creating the next series released by OSSM Comics.
You can check out the Kickstarter and all the backer prizes here.
I hope you enjoy reading Xenoglyphs as much as I did!
I first met Jordan Blit several years ago - he's a kick-ass pool player in APA League (American Poolplayers Association). Those of you who know me probably know that I enjoy playing pool and have played APA for over a decade (although I took a few years off for the somewhat important job of having kids). While I'm sure Jordan would love to be a professional pool player (wouldn't we all?), he has a pretty cool day job, too. He works in animation.
Almost everything has CG these days. Just turn on the TV and you'll see numerous commercials with walking, talking creatures and people doing crazy, physically impossible stunts. Or go to the movies and step into a spaceship. Or go to an amusement park and get immersed in a virtual ride. All of these are projects that Jordan has worked on - in fact, if you've watched anything recently, you've probably seen a commercial he's done or maybe a movie or amusement ride he's had a hand in. He has his own animation company, Jabimation, and he takes on all sorts of projects. But that's just the tip of the iceberg - he has multiple hats he wears. In his own words:
I'm an animator and an educator. I've worked at various vfx and animation studios on both the east and west coasts of the United States. I teach animation at the School of Visual Arts and I make a point to contribute to the community with the thoughts and techniques I've gathered over the years.
So, without further ado, here's Jordan Blit.
Thank you for joining me, Jordan! I've always been amazed by the skill of animation artists ever since I watched my first Disney movie when I was still in the single digits. Have you always wanted to be an animator? If not, what did you do before getting into animation, and how did it lead to your career?
Thank you for taking the time, Alison. I didn't necessarily always want to be an animator but I did grow up a doodler for sure. I started my working life a plumber in a family owned business. I always felt during that time that I was meant for something more creative. I immediately gravitated towards CG as soon as I realized it wasn't as unattainable a goal as I would have thought. Back then it was much less prevalent then it is now. The tools were cumbersome and training was limited, but still it could be learned if you were serious enough about it.
You mention cumbersome tools - how long have you been working in the field, and how has the industry changed from when you first began to today? Is there a project you worked on when you first started out that took you ages to do, and that would now be done in a snap?
I starting working professionally in 2004 but I starting learning the craft about 20 years ago now. The industry has changed immensely since I began. It was very niche field. There wasn't a lot of different software to choose from. What was available was very expensive. You had to really be passionate about it to get in. Nowadays it's almost a requirement for any visual artist to have some kind of digital experience. It's great because it allows anyone with an interest to get in start creating content. On the other side of that coin it doesn't mean everyone that is creating content should be.
I wouldn't say a past project would be a snap today. What I have found is that as the tools get better, the expectations grow just as fast. We would find details to add to a past project to make them just as difficult to produce them today as they were when we originally created them.
What's a typical day like for you?
Not very interesting unfortunately. When you have bills to pay and you are trying to get something off the ground on the side you very quickly find yourself in limited supply of your most valuable asset, time.
I take on various commercial projects as my day job, which usually runs about 8-10 hours a day. I'll do dinner with my girlfriend and try to unwind a bit before putting another 2-4 hours into Jazzy Toons before hitting the sack. During the weekend I might be putting in a few full workdays on Jazzy Toons where I can. I also have to fit in my 1 day a week class at SVA (The School of Visual Arts) including prep and grading.
You mention juggling three different jobs at the same time (something I know a tiny bit about, being a mom, writer and editor, LOL). What challenges you the most in each of the three aspect of your career? What do you enjoy the most?
Well each of these three aspects hit a different point.
The day job has the benefit being integrated into a team in which I can lean on others. Assuming everyone on the team is gelling, the drawback is that it is hard to take ownership of your work on those bigger projects you take on contract.
When you are doing your own thing it's the exact inverse. It's all yours without question but you don't have the benefit of an experienced team at your back.
Teaching fulfills the need to give back. Let's be honest, I'm not saving the world creating commercial cg animation (usually) so if I want to scratch that itch I have to find another way.
Which do I enjoy most? Depends on the day, my mood and maybe even the moons gravitation pull upon the earth a bit. As I write this I'm trying to see what that looks like as a mathematical formula.
Ha ha, I feel the same way - my favorite part of the job one day can be a real pain in the butt the next day. You mentioned working on a side animation project on your own time, called Jazzy Toons. What is it and how did you get involved in it?
About a year ago an old buddy reached out to me. He had the license to three albums of children's songs created by a family friend in the 1990s, and he wanted to create an animated music video channel to bring a love of jazz to a new generation of kids. The problem? He didn't have the production or technical experience to make this dream a reality on his own.
The opportunity to partner up and build something special with an old friend was too perfect to pass up, and the balance of skills has been seamless: he manages the business end and builds concepts with another friend in the editing business, while I produce all the visual content for our already-established library of music.
Our goal is to create high-quality animated characters and visual styles that are better than what is currently in the market and appeal not just to children, but to the adults who are along for the ride. Despite facing budget and time constraints that accompany small, independent projects, we believe we have created video that does justice to the high caliber of music. We went live with our first video on January 4th and anticipate releasing the next one by mid-February.
Can you tell us a little bit about the process behind creating the characters for Jazzy Toons videos, and also about doing animation set to kids' music?
Our target audience is toddlers. We have an advantage in that this content will be among the first video experiences a child consumes. Since there is essentially no basis for comparison the child doesn't really know quality from a cheap cash grab. Any adult can look at what's out there and see dozens of content creators exploiting this fact. Most parents today believe in feeding high quality organic ingredients to their children nutritionally. We believe in feeding them quality content as well so it is important to find the right balance of keeping it cheap and good. There's a saying in content creation: "Cheap. Good. Fast. You only get to pick two of the three." I spent quite a bit of time up front putting a system in place to get the fast to come with the cheap and good, to a point of course.
It helps to have partners as well. Matt Paul, who has put this project together, is doing a great job at putting the concepts together in the form or rough sketches. Brad Marxer has been brilliantly editing those concepts into animatics, which are the sketches/storyboards timed out against the music. This gives me a solid road map to producing each video. I'll start by sketching rough designs on paper. Next I'll clean them up and do a color study on the computer. Lastly they'll be animated and shipped to the platforms we're on.
Can you do a walk-through for us of the process you just described, from storyboards to animation?
Let me walk you through the character design process for one of the first characters put together, Miles on trumpet.
Image 0 represents the rough concept sketches I receive from Matt. I love the feeling and it's very clear to me but I want to make the characters a bit more palatable for children so I move away from fully anthropomorphized–animal head on human body–to something in between. I want to hint that there are scale differences between the animal types and have their bodies keep some features of their full animal counterparts.
Image 1 is a set of initial thumbnail sketches. I quickly jot down something very small to get a sense of shape and proportion without worrying too much about the details. At this point I already know I need a full jazz-band of rats so I am already thinking about how I can differentiate them. Miles is the baseline. Sonny on the saxophone becomes a little taller and lankier. Slide on the trombone becomes a bit shorter and stubbier.
Subtle changes in size will not be enough so Image 2,3 and 4 are my full color studies where I'm starting to play with the different costume changes I could make between characters. I'm not sure yet at this point which character is wearing what so I make sure the outfits are easily interchangeable between them all by focusing all my effort on Miles at first.
Image 5 is my final cleaned up version of Miles, each animateable part broken out into pieces so I can rig it up for the cut-out puppet style animation we are going for. From here I can manipulate the proportions, change the outfits and finally, come up with new color schemes for the rest of the rats. So I end with shape, color, instrument and outfit variation working to help make each rat instantly recognizable as their own character.
Lastly in image 6 we have the final treatment for Miles. Some of the seams between different parts of the puppet are removed (like the line that breaks up the upper and lower leg). The art is quite vector looking and the lines are very hard so I want to soften it up a bit and give the color a certain translucent quality. I don't want it to feel like Southpark's construction paper aesthetic. I want it to feel like light is coming through, almost like a painted cell on acetate. A bit of edge is given to it and a shadow so it feels a bit raised off the background.
That's really cool. I love seeing the character of Miles being built from the ground up - a peek behind the curtain, as it were. There's so much work that goes on to create a music video that plays for just a few minutes. Speaking of all that work, do you have any advice for someone looking to break into the field?
Only pursue it if you have a real passion for it. Work hard and grow a thick skin.
Advice that I think would work well in any creative field – especially true in writing, too. Jordan, I want to thank you so much for chatting with me, and I'll be sure to look out for the new Jazzy Toons video "Peanut Butter Cookies" live today. My kids loved the first video, and have been really looking forward to it.
During my hiatus from this blog at the end of last year, I had a number of publications come out in some very wonderful journals and anthologies. I have all of these listed under the "Publications" tab of my website, but I thought I'd do a shout-out and put up some links here on my blog, so that you can find my new stuff all at once. In order of publication date, they are:
"Under the Surface" at Alien Dimensions (Short Story)
"The Cure" at Pseudo Mag (Poem)
"Interruptions" at formercactus (Poem)
"Tough" and "Unrequited" at blink-ink (Flash)
"One Second" at The Fear of Monkeys (Poem)
"Regrets" and "What Johnny Wants for Christmas" at 200 CCs: Year One Anthology (Flash)
"In Mourning" in Double Take anthology (Flash)
Hope you enjoy reading them!
Who the heck is Alison McBain?
I am a freelance writer and poet with nearly a hundred short pieces published in magazines and anthologies. If the Walking Dead isn't on, I draw pictures and do origami meditation in Connecticut, where I live with my family. If the Walking Dead is on... shhhh! The Walking Dead is on! For more info, please check out my "About Me" page.
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