Interview: Tom Hutchinson of Big Dog Ink on being an Indie Comic Book Publisher

Tom Hutchinson, in collaboration with Stephen Smirl, helped found Big Dog Ink and Legacy Arts & Entertainment. In addition to his duties as President of Legacy Arts & Entertainment,...

Tom Hutchinson, in collaboration with Stephen Smirl, helped found Big Dog Ink and Legacy Arts & Entertainment. In addition to his duties as President of Legacy Arts & Entertainment, he is the writer of Critter, The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West, and Penny for Your Soul.

You can learn more about Big Dog Ink by visiting the publisher’s homepage here and by checking out its facebook page here.

Nicholas Yanes: I’m always fascinated by what motivated someone to go into the comic book industry. What was it about comic books that made you want to make a living in this field? And given the difficulties associated with making it in the entertainment industry, what are some of the obstacles you’ve encountered making a living off of comic books?

Tom Hutchinson: I’ve been a comic book reader since I was about 10 years old. My first comic book was the Marvel Godzilla series #16. From the first reading of that book, I was intent on getting more of them and that eventually grew into buying books like Ghost Rider, Six Million Dollar Man and Turok. So long story short, I have always loved comics so when I had the opportunity to really dive in and see what I could do with this medium, I jumped at the chance. I had been writing my own stories slowly over the previous few years prior to our publishing Penny for Your Soul and Critter. These books grew slowly and were ready to go when the opportunity presented itself.

I had been laid off from my previous job of 7 years and I decided to go ahead and take this leap into comics at that point before I went to find something else. This was a dream for me…even if it was a sort of back burner dream…and it was scary as hell taking that first step into this world. But if I didn’t do it, I would have always wondered what might have been, so here I am.

The primary roadblock I encountered was publishers, quite frankly. I sent out Penny for Your Soul to all the standard folks like Image, etc, and only got a response from one of them who were nice enough to send me a polite rejection letter and that was greatly appreciated. But the fact that I got no response from anyone else really just ticked me off honestly and so I made the decision at that point to just do it myself.

The next roadblock was retailers. They have a very difficult job of course and have been burned on new companies and deal many times with lower quality on indie books, and I don’t blame them for being nervous, but even now, two years later, I still talk to new shops who have never given us a try even though they sell comparable items already. And in many cases these shop owners are very set in their ways, having been in business for many years and feel as though they know what will sell and what won’t for them. And that’s true…at least I would hope so…but that should never preclude you from attempting to offer your customers something new…especially if I am handing you free copies for you to sell and try out. So every day we continue to reach out to retailers, both new and ones we have visited or talked to in the past and try to get our books on their shelves.

Yanes: Outside of DC, Marvel, Image, and Dark Horse there are several comic book companies. What motivated you to take the risk and co-establish Big Dog Ink? On this note, how do you think Big Dog Ink will differentiate itself from other publishers?

Hutchinson: Well Stephen and I decided to band together and produce our comics under a common name for the “strength in numbers” theory that has worked fairly well for us so far. In regards to how we differentiate ourselves, I would say it’s through the quality of the books we produce. We are adamant about finding the best artists possible for our books as well as inkers and colorists. We are constantly praised for the quality of our books right down to the paper stock. I will never put out a book I think is below our standards and our standards are pretty high. That doesn’t mean we won’t take chances on things here and there but there is a baseline we need to have to feel confident in the work we produce.

Besides the quality of the work, our comics fall into the category of fun. Fun comics are the best comics. To be honest, when the mainstream stuff started becoming more “realistic” and forgetting that these were fantasy stories, I lost a lot of interest in them. Comic books are limited only by your imagination and a lot of what’s been happening in the mainstream has been holding comic back in my opinion. Not all of it is bad, not by a long shot, but it isn’t fun to read and I think that’s a big problem.

Yanes: You’re also the President of Legacy Arts & Entertainment. Can you share a little about that company? Specifically, why did you want to create company and what are your long-term plans for Legacy Arts & Entertainment?

Hutchinson: Legacy is the parent company to Big Dog Ink. There are a number of different reasons to do business this way and it was just our choice to operate in this manner. Long-term plans will hopefully include the opportunity of turning some of our projects into television or movie properties, but that is something that you can never count on and we are doing comics because we love comics. Another trait the industry is sorely lacking right now.

Yanes: The first comic I read from Big Dog Ink was Critter #1, which was nothing but pure fun. What inspired you to create this series?

Hutchinson: Critter is everything I love about comics. Fun lead character, a true starting point for readers to get involved, fun fantasy costumes, crazy villains and in this case the story about BECOMING a super hero as opposed to most other hero books where the lead simply IS a super hero. In this story, Critter is thrown into a world that is immense and can be scary, intimidating and confusing. That makes for great stories and character development as she is pulled one way and then another, all the while just trying to be true to herself.

Yanes: In addition to Critter and The Legend of Oz, you also wrote Penny for Your Soul. So when do you sleep?

Hutchinson: Rarely…but I am writing comics and trying to make a living at it so how can I ever really complain about any part of it.

Yanes: Penny for Your Soul follows Danica, a demon who purchases souls for 10K in exchange for fulfilling someone’s greatest desire. It’s a fun concept that seems to begging for a TV show. What are some of the long-term goals you have for this title?

Hutchinson: Penny for Your Soul is my little epic. It is slated to be seven different miniseries, each with 7 issues and then a 50th issue finale to wrap the whole thing up. Most of this story is plotted and ready to be scripted. I know who the players are, and I know how it ultimately ends. It’s a big project but one I will be very proud to produce and complete along with JB Neto (the artist) and Oren Kramek (the colorist/letterer).

Yanes: Penny for Your Soul #1 can be purchased for $1 as a pdf. Everyone is talking about the digital future of comics, how have digital comics affected your position as a businessman and as a creator? When you think about marketing a concept, are you spending more time worried about getting your books into comic book stores or downloaded onto tablets?

Hutchinson: I’m a paper comics guy. Always will be. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see the future, and it is digital. Tablets will be common in 5-10 years and the way people get their news and entertainment will be changing in a hurry. Comics will hopefully have a chance to be a big part of that change but at this point I am concentrating on creating relationships with retailers and fans through the tangible product route. I do get asked if we have a comics app for Big Dog Ink or if we are available through other digital distribution methods, but those are quite honestly few and far between at this point.

Yanes: Given DC’s recent controversy for how they’ve depicted Catwoman and Starfire, how do you as a creator struggle with making female characters athletic looking and eye catching without embracing the over-sexualized depiction of women that is now the comic book cliché?

Hutchinson: There’s nothing wrong with having sexy women in comics, but how they act and pose is all about context. It’s about understanding that yes, these women are good looking, but that doesn’t mean you have to portray them with their butts sticking out or with a bunch of boob and butt shots that serve no purpose to the overall tone of the story. The Catwoman first issue to me was a complete joke. The first page was nothing but boob and butt and then the issue wraps with her and Batman mauling each other on a roof. Fans enjoyed it, no doubt, but that book did not need those things to sell the book. Catwoman would have sold just fine without it, therefore it was gratuitous. There’s a time and place for that stuff but it isn’t in a normal monthly Catwoman book that girls…or more importantly PARENTS…are going to see thinking this is what they saw on the cartoons on TV. That’s a problem and as of this writing there are already news reports talking about the same thing I just mentioned.

So now people will say I’m a hypocrite because Penny for Your Soul is all sexualized with butts and boobs. Context. Penny is about a Las Vegas hotel and casino where sex is used to lure people off the street like bugs to a bright light. But I would challenge anyone who says Penny for Your Soul is just a tits and ass book because there is a very strong story there with some thought provoking questions. And that’s not me telling you that, that’s the responses I have gotten from readers who are anxious to see what happens next in this End of Days in Las Vegas experiment.

Critter of course is our own resident catgirl, and while she is fit and certainly sexy, we don’t write that book with the concept of sexualizing her. Her costume makes sense to someone with her abilities, we don’t stick butts in your face, and I don’t believe that any of our female heroines have “struck a pose” while in battle. But again, those types of elements are about context. There will be characters that enjoy their ability to knock someone out and give a pose for the camera, but that’s their specific character and should not be looked at as the standard for every female character in a series. Character is as much context as setting etc. The problem I have with what DC did with Catwoman and Starfire is that it didn’t need to be done to make the book sell. It was fan service and while I get that…I really do…they could just as easily have done those types of things in alternate books like the Catwoman: When in Rome, etc. That’s the place for that stuff, not the normal books parents and kids can get their hands on thinking it’s what they know from TV. That just causes problems for us all.

Yanes: Big Dog Ink seems to have a ton of things going on. What are some projects that fans should keep an eye out for?

Hutchinson: First of all we have our newest creator owned book releasing in April called Rex the Zombie Killer. This is a new take on the zombie apocalypse that’s being called Homeward Bound meets The Walking Dead. Essentially, it’s the animal’s story within the zombie apocalypse and has a gorilla that carries a baseball bat. It’s a 50+ page one shot by Rob Anderson and it is amazingly fun.

Then in May my first horror book will release, and it is called Ursa Minor. It takes place in the near future were werewolves are an endangered species, vampires are mankind’s saviors and one girl with a power she can barely control sets out on a journey to set nature’s supernatural balance back in check…by killing every vampire on the planet.

We are looking to release the anthology edition of Island Tales, which has been produced by Stephen Smirl. These stories are Hawaiian and Polynesian fairy tales and folklore turned into comics. Many of these stories have only been passed on from generation to generation through verbal storytelling and this is one of the very few times that the stories will be put to paper.

In July, Critter returns as an ongoing monthly with the original creative team all returning, and we are going to have three individual one shots for some of the characters that had been introduced in the Critter miniseries releasing in the fall of 2012.

We also have large plans for The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West as well as that book has been tremendously popular for us and has really given us a lot more eyes on our products.

For more information on all of our titles you can visit or find our Facebook fan pages for Big Dog Ink , here, or for each of our individual titles.

Remember to follow me on twitter @NicholasYanes and feel free learn about me at Klout here

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