The Highs And Lows Of Being (A) Stray

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 19 February 2015
Category: Features
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It has taken nearly 18 months to get the first issue of a new creator-owned comics series into comic shops. From a successful Kickstarter campaign to a publisher backout that left the project homeless and printing and distribution problems, we bring you the roller-coaster ride that is the behind-the-scenes story of Stray, a superhero comic by Vito Delsante and Sean Izaakse.

It's been a long time coming but the first issue of Stray, created by Vito Delsante and Sean Izaakse, was finally available worldwide in comic-books stores yesterday. This success is a story of fortitude and perseverance, with highs that kept the project moving forwards and lows that repeatedly tried to derail it - in some cases permanently.

The Highs And Lows Of Being (A) StrayThe story, in the public's eyes, begins in October 2013 when the project to publish the first issue was launched on Kickstarter but much had already gone on behind the scenes before that point. Delsante, a writer and comics-creator based in New York who has written Stray and does the lettering, had originally collaborated with a different artist to get the project going but the pace was too slow, and work wasn't completed, so he went looking for someone else to fill the role. The result: Sean Izaakse, an artist from Johannesburg in South Africa, who stepped on board and worked with Delsante to reimagine and redo all the art and visual world building from scratch, giving the characters new designs that belonged to no one else and returning the original work to the original artist so that he could use it elsewhere, if he so desired. Delsante and Izaakse had previously met via DeviantArt and Izaakse was a natural choice for Delsante to approach when the problems with the original artist began to manifest.

The Stray project was imagined as a four-issue miniseries, with more to follow if it was successful. The story centres on a superhero sidekick who has left crime fighting to join the real world but is sucked back in after his mentor is killed. Part of the story is also told through flashbacks, in which we learn about his superhero training and experiences, his past, and his mentor.

The Highs And Lows Of Being (A) Stray

The Stray team members got to work on completing the first issue as they ran the Kickstarter campaign, which would help to fund costs and allow for a special backer-only exclusive print run of the first issue to be realised. Meanwhile, New Paradigm Studios had agreed to come on board to publish the comic for retail to get the entire series, ultimately, into comic-book stores. Two colourists, Ross Campbell (flashback scenes) and Simon Gough (modern-day scenes) were brought on board, and artists were sourced for pinups, as well as cover art and cover variants for the future issues in the series.

As is often the case the Kickstarter campaign hung in the balance in the last week, which is usually a nerve-racking time for project creators, and then required a final push that ultimately resulted in the campaign almost reaching a stretch goal that would see the second issue getting funded too. Three hundred and thirty two backers had bought into the dream (full disclosure: I was one of them) and now it was time for the team to deliver. Easier said than done.

The Highs And Lows Of Being (A) Stray

The team was hit with a major blow in December 2013 - New Paradigm Studios was backing out of Stray entirely, and partially out of another project, World War Mob, that Delsante was working on, for financial reasons and to re-brand its strategy. This put the entire series in jeopardy and meant that it was very likely that the project wouldn't be able to carry on past the first issue and reach comic-book stores. After a discussion with his wife Delsante decided to take the financial knock himself and fund the rest of the project.

The Highs And Lows Of Being (A) StrayWork continued steadily, with backers receiving regular updates and teasers, including a fun one showing backer cameos in the art, and then it was announced at the end of March 2014 that Izaakse had finished the art for first issue and it just needed a little extra colouring work by Gough to be complete, which happened a few days later.

Next it was time for preparation for printing and digital distribution and, two months later, backers had a link to the digital copy in their inboxes - a standard copy, called the Original Cut and featuring just the comic, for low-tier backers and a Director's Cut copy for higher-tier backers. The Director's Cut included a large section at the end of commentary by Delsante and Izaakse, in which they detailed the challenges they went through to produce each particular page, discussed some of the ideas that were tossed out, and highlighted Easter eggs that are hidden in the story and the art. Backers were also told that the second issue of Stray was halfway done and that the first issue had been scheduled for public release in January 2015.

A few days later Delsante received the colour proofs for the printed version of the comic, which then successfully made it to the printers, was printed, and was posted to backers. Around the same time The Stray Character Handbook reference book was also made available as a digital download for backers.

"There's still a lot of stuff that I'm still figuring out about creator owned work so nothing I know is hard and fast rules. Vito, my collaborator and co-creator on Stray, does most of the leg work since he's in the US and speaks to the publishers more often and knows more about the numbers than I do. I think working internationally, having someone who you trust and can work with who is actually over there to handle things is a huge advantage."
  - Sean Izaakse on his experience, as a South African, of working on a creator-owned project and promoting it internationally
Next it was time for promotion above and beyond the social-media campaigns that had been steadily outputting content on various platforms for months. As the team continued to work on issues two, three, and four, as well as backer rewards, Delsante started doing the convention circuit. First up was Comic-Con International: San Diego, where he announced that Stray would now be published by Action Lab Entertainment. Delsante had apparently been working quietly behind the scenes to secure a new publisher and, as he had always secretly wanted the project to be published by Action Lab Entertainment, the new partnership was a dream come true and very good news for the future of the series.

Baltimore Comic-Con, Long Beach Comic Con, and New York Comic Con followed (where, in New York, Delsante was joined by Sean Izaakse, who returned to South Africa practically vibrating with excitement from the experience). Meanwhile, backers and fans were encouraged to preorder the retail versions of issue one and help with the word of mouth, specifically via social media on 19 November 2014 with an orchestrated campaign. The fear was that issue two, in particular (due to the fact that the second issue of a publication usually has the lowest order numbers), might be dropped from its 18 February 2015 scheduled date if it didn't meet minimum preorder requirements, which would cause the series to be cancelled, so it was important to get the word out.

"The numbers on an indy comic by a small publisher with no famous names behind it is a massive challenge," Izaakse recently told me. "Numbers for issue one preorders are always expected to be low, and usually only pick up by issue three, with hopefully sales making a comeback in trade paperback collections. Also what's really challenging is trying to make any superhero book outside of Marvel and DC, especially since all those characters have long existing fan bases and we're trying to start a new one. In the current age of social media, interacting with fans and peers and making those connections and friends helps a great deal in drawing readers to your work and in gaining their support. It is a lot of work but can help a lot more than sitting back and expecting people to just grab it off the shelf among all their other favourites."

The Highs And Lows Of Being (A) Stray

The holidays came and went and fans were eager for the January 2015 release of the first issue but the project, once again, hit a massive stumbling block: a printer delay around New Year's meant that the first issue would not be out in time and the release would have to be delayed. For weeks no one was sure of the new date as time moved increasingly, and perilously, closer to the 18 February 2015 release date for the second issue.

Eventually it was decided that the best course of action would be to release both issues on the same day but fate intervened again and the bad weather in the US caused deliveries to be delayed, which affected issue two. At this stage it's still unclear whether this will have a further knock-on effect on issues three and four.

Nevertheless issue one made it: as of now - or, more accurately, yesterday - it is in the hands of the comic-reading general public and, to celebrate, in the US 18 February 2015 was officially #StrayDay (at JHU Comic Books in New York, anyway). Vito Delsante and Khary Randolph, the artist of the first issue's variant cover (whose art we exclusively previewed on brainwavez.org back in June) met fans, signed comics, and celebrated the end of the roller-coaster ride that led to the launch of the first issue.







Delsante sums up the moment best: "I had a rotten day yesterday. I woke up with a lot of positivity, and then couldn't find my headset to record my podcast. Strike 1. Strike 2 happened when I got home and saw the Internet wasn't working (and still isn't). There were actually two more strikes but when I arrived at the store to do the signing, and saw the books on the table... I hadn't seen one until that very moment. It was like... 'You had to go through all of this just for this moment.' And that holds true for the entire process of making the book. A lot of downs, as well as ups. A lot of valleys, as well as mountains. I'm still trying to process it all but yeah... it's a good feeling. I've always said it's like having a baby, and while the birth of my daughter was definitely better, this was... as crazy as it sounds... pretty high up there."

The Highs And Lows Of Being (A) Stray

It's been a very long journey, and it's not over yet, with three issues still to make it to the shops and a bigger fanbase to build. (In terms of production, the team is currently finishing up the fourth issue.) If the series is successful, which means copies need to be sold, the creators can continue even further with the story. They've already started planning what's in volume two and I, as well as a few hundred other people who have been watching this journey from the start, would like to see it become a reality.


In South Africa, #StrayDay will be next week. Sean Izaakse will be in Cape Town to launch the first issue of the comic series at Design Indaba on 27 February at 17:00 in the events arena.



Cover Gallery
I was originally going to post availability dates for the issues but due to the ongoing distribution problems no one is sure of them at the moment so, instead, here's just a visual roundup of the four issues of volume one and the collected trade paperback, their variants (which are limited to 1500 copies), and some links to previews and extra information. We'll announce the new release dates in future South African comics news roundups as we become aware of them.

Meanwhile, enjoy the art, and order your copies from your local comic shop!

The Highs And Lows Of Being (A) Stray

Stray #1: Comixology, Preview
Writer: Vito Delsante
Artist: Sean Izaakse
Colours: Ross A Campbell (flashback scenes) and Simon Gough (present-day scenes)
Cover Artists: Mike Norton and Ben Hunzeker (standard cover) and Khary Randolph (variant cover)



The Highs And Lows Of Being (A) Stray

Writer: Vito Delsante
Artist: Sean Izaakse
Colours: Ross A Campbell (flashback scenes) and Simon Gough (present-day scenes)
Cover Artists: Sean Izaakse and Ross A Campbell (standard cover) and Mike McGuan (variant cover)



The Highs And Lows Of Being (A) Stray

Writer: Vito Delsante
Artist: Sean Izaakse
Colours: Ross A Campbell (flashback scenes) and Simon Gough (present-day scenes)
Cover Artists: ChrissCross and Emilio Lopez (standard cover) and Paige Pumphrey (variant cover)



The Highs And Lows Of Being (A) Stray

Writer: Vito Delsante
Artist: Sean Izaakse
Colours: Ross A Campbell (flashback scenes) and Simon Gough (present-day scenes)
Cover Artists: Sean Izaakse and Ross A Campbell (standard cover) and Julian Lopez, Juan Albarran, and Brett R Smith (variant cover)



The Highs And Lows Of Being (A) Stray

Stray Volume 1: Who Killed the Doberman? Trade Paperback
Writer: Vito Delsante
Artist: Sean Izaakse
Colours: Ross A Campbell (flashback scenes) and Simon Gough (present-day scenes)
Cover Artist: Dean Haspiel



On The Internet
Sean Izaakse: DeviantArt, Comic Vine, Twitter
Ross A Campbell: Comic Book DB, DeviantArt, Twitter


Tags: #books, #comics, #sacomics, #speculative_fiction





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