Nov 12, 2014

[INTERVIEW] Jesse James Higgins (Red Rage Comics)

SFCB: So Jesse, for those out there reading this, who may not know about you, let everyone know who you are and what you do.

JESSE JAMES HIGGINS: You mean there’s people in the world who don’t know indie comic producer’s like me… Scandal! I’m actually a little freaked out right now… Exterminate them all! haha! Just squidding! In retrospect, that pretty much sums me up right there… I once did a phone interview for local radio while booth running at our local comic con, didn’t know the interview was live to air, and ended up apologizing to our hometown for shattering the carefully crafted facade that I’m not a complete ass.

Aside from that, I’m just a photo-bombing bro from a rodeo family that hails from Canadian woods. I love to read and write and I’ve fallen completely head-over-heels for the comic book/ graphic novel medium. So I dove in head-first and founded Red Rage Comics with Scott Dewey, and we’ve taken a chance on being part of the comics industry. And it’s working out! The first graphic novel we made is called “The Tasting.” It was a Kickstarter baby and now it’s a convention trail veteran. And I’ve been absolutely blown away by the response we’ve received from the people who let us strong arm our work into their hands with various ‘ehs’ and vague threats involving polar bears, maple syrup, and mukluks! Think about it.

And I don’t know if it’s even remotely close to a correct use of the term Renaissance, but the comic industry seems to be in a birth state, a moment of flux and potential revitalization. A moment where new-found relevance is on the horizon. Like a Renaissance period where beautiful fine art, compelling writing, and experimental story presentations are coming to the fore and reinforming an industry stuffed full of character and production tradition. So it’s a joy and a privilege to be a small part of a growing trend in a wonderfully fun industry!

SFCB: Growing up I always liked to write, but it never really occurred to me to make a living from it, perhaps due to self-consciousness or whatever. At what point did you look at your writings and think "this is what I want to do for a living?"

JESSE JAMES HIGGINS: I’ve always looked at writing that way. I’ve always known that I want to be a writer. However, it took me a long time to get the point where I didn’t let other considerations distract from dream pursuit. I carried this idea - an idea probably informed by a lack of confidence that I could make the write-for-a-living dream real - that I needed to be positioned the exact right way so I could spend the exact right time in the the exact right place to be a successfully productive writer. In fact, I was still in this mindset when Scott and I started Red Rage. I was working a lot and spent spastic and haphazard production time with The Tasting.

Then life took a twist, forced me to account for who I am, and required that I make the conscious decision to value myself and, in all actuality, value myself as worthy and ready to receive fulfillment of my dreams. Dreams I’d carried my entire life but never truly worked toward… Long story short, I went through a divorce. My marriage was troubled and hit the rocks during our first Kickstarter campaign a year ago. My ex and I got separated during the major production phase of The Tasting, failed to reconcile in the middle of the first (and failed) Octospore Kickstarter, and we officially ended our marriage a few weeks before the Octospore relaunch.

I was in a glass cage of emotion. It was heartbreaking. I remember a specific moment when I realized that I didn’t know how to communicate my hopes, concerns, love, dreams to the woman I loved, that we hadn’t received this precious part of each other, and that it no longer mattered. I then realized that I was living for this unfulfilling and safe vision of what life should look like. There was all this possibility, the passion in my heart to create and invest in the world right there, to support my family, foster friendship, impact the world well… doing what I love.

The chance to do the things that set my heart and mind on fire, forever! But there was this antithesis of passion, this pressure from a culture that believes its own fear to be wisdom, praises its own pathetic excuses that promote a denuded life, and, in fact, fosters a lifestyle of avoiding dream pursuit because of it’s own fear of risk and looking stupid in failure. And it took watching my life fall apart, failing painfully and publicly, clutching for everything I’d worked so hard for and poured my life into as it died, before I stood up for myself and chose to risk failure again, more failure, but this time risk pointed in a direction that carried good promises and cultivated the pieces of me that I’ve always hoped would flourish.

(laughs) I wrote a large part of The Tasting in a horse trailer post separation, and here’s a major truth we try to shield ourselves from: a person can fail at what they don’t love too.

Life’s not easy. But every moment we have is a gift. And every day is a chance to LIVE rather than simply be alive…

So I guess I had the ‘writing-is-what-I-want-to-do-for-a-living’ moment a long time ago. What got me into the write-for-a-living saddle was clarity that my ability to write for a living is 100% my decision to make. My responsibility. It’s a risk, but it’s my risk. I’ve also failed way bigger and way more publicly than what I’m risking now. Recently. And I’ve learned how to stand up and keep going even when it hurts so bad you just want to lay down and quit. And there’s no formula. You produce and you put yourself in front of the world and you see what returns to you. And you keep going, you try, and you remember that you have to move into a dream to make it real. Your dream house… If you get it, my friend, they give you keys. And I’m here to tell you that fortune is eager to favor the brave. haha! At least, I think it is…

And here’s my life conviction, the thing that sets my eyes on a writing career: I would rather fail dramatically and to embarrassing extents in the active pursuit of realizing my passions, the chance that my dreams might manifest in my circumstances, than let fear keep me from running the race that I love and writing the stories that delight my heart.

SFCB: You have your own comic book company called "Red Rage Comics" which you founded with Scott Dewey. Talk about how you connected with Scott and how you came to create your own comic book company.

JESSE JAMES HIGGINS: Scott and I connected at our day job. We were working in a group home that cared for two brain injured men. The one man was obsessed with ‘The Price is Right’ and only got upset if you interrupted his TV watching routine (or if you made him soup for lunch three days in a row). The other man in the house was very volatile and needed constant attention. And we worked 12 hour shifts. So, if working with the man who watched TV, you needed to occupy your time. So I would write and Scott would bring his sketchbook.

One day I asked Scott to see his sketchbook, he showed me what he’d been working on, and a light bulb went off. I told him, “We’re going to make a graphic novel!” I’d never considered making a comic or a graphic novel before that moment. But I blurted out that sentence. Scott’s incredible art compelled me. So I showed him some of my writing and he said, “Okay.” And now, a year later, we’ve learned some industry lessons, learned some business, become good friends, and we’re turning a corner where we’re able to do what we love full time. It’s amazing!

SFCB: Over the past decade we've seen a lot of different products take a jump from physical to digital, such as music and movies as well as books/comics. I've talked with people who like it and who can't stand that things are moving away from a "physical world", so to speak. What are your thoughts on the idea of books and comics going digital?

JESSE JAMES HIGGINS: Digital is great from a producer stand point. A one time cost of production and a 24/7 delivery system that allows a customer instant assessment and instant gratification. However, having read books and comics both ‘physically’ and digitally, I love holding the book in my hands. I got fascinated about reading by watching my Dad read books. It makes me a little sad to see him transition to digital reading.

Printed books are dirtier, more of a physical experience than digital - digital is so clean, so hospital - and I like that physicality. I can make notes in my books, mark them up, fold the pages. Drop them on the ground and it really doesn’t matter. But who knows… I just read ‘American Gods’ on my computer and didn’t have to find it a shelf. And the book was just as magnificent. Gaiman, you wizard. Plus I’m really terrible at making PDFs of our books… haha! I broke people’s technology the first time I sent a digital copy of The Tasting to their inboxes post Kickstarter fulfillment… My goodness, I can see the transition. Myself though, I’m not 100% ready for it.

SFCB: With the introduction of things going digital, there is, of course, the issue of piracy. While there are always going to be the naysayers and doom and gloomers who talk about how piracy spells the death of creativity and whatnot, I am not sure that it's really a black and white issue. For every argument against, I've seen rational and valid arguments for how piracy can, in some circumstances, help. But at the end of the day, the creators definitely need to be compensated for their work, and all the entitled whiners have to understand that. As someone that has done their fair share of downloading over the years, yet has more or less moved on to buying things now, I understand that desire and the pull of all this stuff online that's just there waiting to be clicked and downloaded. How do you feel about the digital piracy issue as it relates to the comics world, and have you had an issue with that so far?

JESSE JAMES HIGGINS: We’ve had minor issues with piracy. Here’s my opinion: it’s always nice to get paid. However, if the Red Rage Kingdom is in such a weak position that a few pirates can destroy it, then the Red Rage Kingdom is on its way out… Simple. And, to be honest, I see a major flip side: what if a pirate takes our work, becomes a fan, lands some windfall money, and turns into a Red Rage Comics patron? We plan to persist so we want our audience to grow, no matter how the growth occurs.

So no, it isn’t black and white. It’s simple economics. If we’re doing work that’s worthwhile, more exposure should lead to better economics, no matter if all exposure to our work happens legally.

There is, however, one thing that grinds my gears… People who take other artist’s work, put their own signature on it, and sell it as if they did the work… Don’t do that, friends… That’s so ugly! I’ve seen that on the convention trail. I caught somebody presenting the work of another artist at a convention as if it was their own. Was even signing prints of the other artist’s work when sales were made. Gross! Tried to justify it to me, as well. Tried to tell me that an exact rip-off - EXACT DOWN TO THE PHOTOSHOP RENDERED PEN SPLATS - of a digital artist I follow was in fact an original made with oil… haha! Nope. That’s the line for me. Take our work, eat it, share it. But if you take and present my work, please make sure you point it back to me… That helps me make more stuff you can pirate at a later date.

SFCB: As you travel around to the various Cons to meet the fans and the various cosplayers, talk about your experiences with that, and how it's been being able to connect with your readers.

JESSE JAMES HIGGINS: I love conventions! I’m a salesman. Again, I grew up in a rodeo family, so I watched horse trading growing up. And now I love jumping through salesman hoops to get our work in people’s hands. And I love it because I love what we’re doing. I believe in the merit of our projects and I’m excited for people to have them. So conventions… people walk right up to our book and art displays!!! Hallelujah! It’s like indie producer Heaven. I feel so comfortable in that place. I love it.

And the convention stories. Oh my goodness, the stories… Con bathrooms are like no other place on earth. I’ve seen Master Chief fall into a toilet and get helped out by a fellow Spartan. I’ve had my foot pissed on. I’ve talked a Nigri super fan out of a one-stall-over-from-me spiritual collapse after crapping his pants right before a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet her. I’ve peed beside Batman. I’ve peed with Batman to my left and the Joker to my right. I had a heartfelt moment with a Guardians fan who almost forgot his Rocket tail in my stall after a desperate cosplay strip down one-stall-over… We spoke about good people being left in the world. But seriously cosplayers, you need to start designing costumes in consideration of #1 and #2! It happens. Even to the best of us.

#TeamRedRage vs. Undead Du
And cosplayers… I love cosplay! It’s so damn cool! I’ve even been considering cosplaying after so many weekends spent on the convention floor. It seems empowering. And, in fact, we think it’s so damn cool that we’re starting to work with cosplayers in our projects. For instance, Ms. Undead Du, our fellow Canadian, has been an absolute gem to work with. We’ve partnered with her for Octospore and we’re hoping to push a story called ‘Undead Du vs the Octopocalypse’ through the production budget window as a Kickstarter stretch goal. Du’s a complete professional and a genuine nerd girl! She collects comics, knows all anime, and will kick your butt at every video game. Find her: and!

Here’s a rant: guys, seriously, stop directing all this ‘fake nerd girl’ hate at the women of cosplay. The women of cosplay are a huge benefit to our community. And think of it this way: at the very worst there’s a women dressed up as a character from your favorite show, favorite game, favorite comic, who might not know as much about the character as you do… Start a conversation! But don’t hate. Nerd girls deserve our geeky respect!

And lets not discount our cosplay men. Some of the costumes I’ve seen, like a perfect rendition of Iron Man, wow. Respect. Our cosplay men and women are crafting an art form! They’re artists!!! The craftsmanship and dedication that goes into some of the costuming I’ve seen is incredible!!! I hope the cosplay community continues to grow and I hope we’re able to help foster that growth. Truth.

SFCB: So you have once again dipped your feet into the crowdsourcing world with your newest kickstarter for your book "The Octospore Book 1", which recently passed the goal with another few weeks to go. Talk about your experiences with Kickstarter, and how it's helped you with your projects.

JESSE JAMES HIGGINS: Simply put, I don’t know if Red Rage exists without a successful Kickstarter. More so even than the funding we received to produce The Tasting was the feeling of validation we got from a successful campaign. We saw people believe in us. We saw people hope for our success. We saw people want a piece of what we were doing at the very outset of our journey. Affirmation, my friend. It helps marriages and art producers!

It’s also a chance to intimately connect with fans in the context of a project. That’s huge! We have a worldwide audience of people who are excited for what we’re doing and want the next thing that we do… Incredible! We’re from a small town in Alberta. We’ve sent book to Australia, Russia, Mexico, England, Dubai… What a gift! Patronage is a real thing again because of platforms like Kickstarter! And it helps us flourish…

I have nothing but good to say about Kickstarter. It’s a huge opportunity for indie people like us. I’ve also seen some of our favorite established artists produce their passion projects with Kickstarter money. Cooler Coolers are cool. I love potato salad. I mean, look at Octospore. It gets to get born. And we get to keep doing what we love.

And we’ll definitely seek funding through the Kickstarter platform for upcoming projects. Absolutely. Done! BOOM!!!


SFCB: I appreciate your time today, Jesse. Before you go, I'll let you have the final word. (Note: this you can use to tease upcoming projects, or shout out the fans or whatever you want).

JESSE JAMES HIGGINS: Appreciation. That’s the final word. We have so many people in our thus-far journey that deserve so much ‘thank you.’ It’s astounding. And you! Good Sir, thank you for your continued support! You have no idea what to expect in you Octospore Kickstarter reward envelope… No idea… Squiddy doom…

Team Squid, tell everyone: Red Rage Comics is turning Octospore into a big, far reaching project. Octo… 8… Think about it. And this little squid keeps on getting bigger and better!!! Jump on board the octo-train now! Start ‘Say No to Squid’ protests in your streets… We’ll help with the logistics. And above all else, join the Kickstarter fun! Get your official Team Squid clubhouse membership!!! You won’t regret it! (Or you might - your choice!!!)

And keep in touch with Red Rage Comics. We’re starting a beautiful project in December that has us working with some incredible cosplayers. I can’t say more right now… Just check out and get in our kitchen!

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