20. The Making of a Comic: 'Thirty-Three' with Juan Ponce and Gavin Guidry
A writer and artist on taking turns with world-building
Howdy Brave Being,
Welcome back to the wonderful world of The Making of a Comic. This week, I’m joined by creators Juan Ponce and Gavin Guidry who are here to chat about their dark action comedy and family drama THIRTY- THREE, now live on Kickstarter. Juan brought me on board to proofread the five-issue miniseries, which I instantly thought felt like John Wick meets Raising Arizona, two films that I thoroughly enjoy. Here they are to tell you all about it. Let’s hop to it!
Brittany Matter: Tell us a little bit about THIRTY-THREE.
Juan Ponce: Thirty-Three is the over-the-top action adventure story I’ve always wanted to read, but it’s also a personal story full of heart and heartbreak.
BM: How did you two work together to build out the world?
Gavin Guidry: I think it came really naturally with us taking our turns in the process from issue to issue. Probably the biggest contributed bit from me was knowing we needed to have a hospital for one of the middle issues, and deciding to basically make it Sacred Heart, or collaborating on clothing designs for scene to scene. Things like that helping round out the reality of the book and its characters.
JP: Yeah Gavin nailed it. It came really natural. Honest to God, sometimes he would make choices that I didn’t write, but would envision, he just knew. Moments like Sacred Heart were strokes of genius and all him. From the get go Gavin got this world and made it his own. Early on into our collaboration his art became my guide as how the story would go. It’s pretty cool how much this became our world.
BM: In one word, what has each creator brought to the world of THIRTY-THREE?
BM: Since there are two distinct teams on issue #1 versus issues #2-5, how did the new team build off of the first team's foundation?
GG: The biggest thing for me was to take Marco’s initial designs and extrapolate them into my style and then with the character Andrew, I had it in mind to gradually have him lose some of the schlubbiness as he went into action, like his muscle memory is so extreme from his past, that just a little bit of action kicked his body into high gear, and by the end, he’s basically his old self.
BM: How is world-building different in a miniseries vs. a short or one-shot?
JP: My rule of thumb for a short comic, or a one shot, is to set up your entire world and its conflict by page one or two. In a good scene you come in late and leave early. This is what you have to do for an overall short. Drop the reader right in the middle of a situation, in the middle of a world. As a writer it’s your job to set up the rules, the atmosphere, and the character’s struggle by the second page or first page. When it comes to a mini-series, like Thirty-Three, you have a bit more room to introduce your character and their world. There’s beats you can hit now that you can’t in a short. In creating really good beats you can get your reader to get behind your character, and to really have a feel for the world. That said, you still have to hit those beats carefully.
When I work on a mini-series typically by page 6-8 I hit my turning point/inciting incident. Although you’re given more space in a series, people need to be entertained fairly quickly. The longer you take to get to the action the higher your chance is that they’ll leave. Much like in a short, you have to get them hooked early. The world can grow and evolve throughout a mini-series, but the essentials; character, tone, conflict and setting; need to be pretty clear early on.
BM: Is there advice you'd give to fellow creators about world-building?
JP: Make sure your story is as interesting as your world. I’ve read stories from new creators that have unbelievable worlds, but the characters and their conflict aren’t there. We all remember the rich world of Star Wars, yet would we still be talking about it today if the story or its characters were underdeveloped?
BM: Was there anything from your own lives that you incorporated into this story?
JP: I wanted to create a bonkers world where clowns and katana wielding kids are trying to take down an out-of-shape assassin. That said, I wanted that out-of-shape assassin to be layered and for his world to be layered, so I made sure to put some of my life on the page. For example, me and Andrew West (the oaf assassin) are different in many ways, yet I too have pushed the people who love me away, because I too have struggled in accepting who I am. Throughout the series I made sure to incorporate personal experiences like that one, because they ring true and readers can relate.
Cover Art Process
BM: Tell us a little bit about the cover art process for the trade.
GG: I drew up 5 sketches for Juan, trying out a few different things, and we agreed on the one we liked best for the cover. From there I penciled it, on my iPad, printed those out, and inked it traditionally, before scanning it in and coloring it myself.
BM: How did you land on the idea for it? Was it a team effort?
GG: I sent Juan an initial 3 sketches, and while I was waiting for Juan to respond, and looking back and forth at the sketches, I decided to take another stab at it, and halfway through a 4th idea, the 5th one just sort of hit me all at once.
BM: What feelings did you want to invoke in readers with this cover?
GG: I wanted it to have a surreal and foreboding feeling, so when I was working it up, I wanted the gun to have a really realistic and rendered look to it. It clashes with the rest of the images reality, which is striking, but it also, as you come to read the story, represents the series long burden of Andrew and his family essentially being hunted for his past.
BM: What do you think makes a memorable cover?
GG: I think the BEST covers balance composition, with striking imagery that also represents the story or thematic elements of the book.
Self-Publishing on Kickstarter
BM: Why did y'all choose Kickstarter to self-publish this miniseries?
JP: Gavin left this decision up to me. This was a hard choice to make, but I decided this was the best route for our mini-series. Team 33 has been working hard on this book for quite some time, our goal is to be in bookstores, so why wait on others when we could do it ourselves? This is truly an indie book, so we the creators are bringing it to the people.
BM: What one big takeaway that you've learned about the self-publishing process?
JP: Plan ahead of self-publishing—you need a strategy. Being a creator I love creating, but self-publishing requires you to create and then distribute. And being a distributer is a whole different beast, there’s tons of creativity in that too, yet more than anything it’s a business. From creating revenue to a distribution model, planning in advance is your best friend.
GG: It’s never not nerve-wracking and scary.
BM: Which of THIRTY-THREE's rewards are y'all most excited about?
JP: The art prints are gorgeous and I can’t wait to unveil the second one! Though I must admit, the reward I’m most looking forward to is the special edition issues. I can’t wait for readers to see all the cool behind the scenes. Gavin and Marco’s black and white art is a sight to behold! What the team did with those scripts will blow you away! I have no doubt each one of those issues will be really fun to read.
Get the Scoop on Juan and Gavin
BM: Where are you when inspiration strikes?
JP: Listening to music while driving or doing chores. Sometimes it happens during a good movie, book, or podcast. It takes one little thought or question in my mind to snowball into a story.
GG: Nine times out of ten, I’m in the least opportune place. Cooking, driving, or in the shower. However far I can be from my drawing table, typically.
BM: What are a couple of your inspirations for THIRTY-THREE?
JP: John Wick, Mad Max, a lot of Cohen Brothers, and oddly enough Amazon’s dark comedy series Catastrophe.
BM: What are y'all working on lately?
JP: Right before the Kickstarter I was working on two shorts. One was a slice of life story with a small cast and a lot of nine-panel grids. The other was a sport’s drama in the same vein of my boxing short, A Match. They will both most likely arrive somewhere in the late spring. Right now my focus is on making another cool superhero story following my Voices short. I’m also preparing an indie pitch for a zombie story, it’s a really beautiful tale.
GG: I’ve got a new Creator Owned series in the works with Ed Brisson, and I’m helping draw a Marvel/Scholastic Captain America YA OGN with artist Brent Schoonover, called Captain America: The Ghost Army.
BM: How exciting! I can’t wait to see all these other things that y’all are cooking up. I’m certainly sold on a beautiful zombie story and anything with Ed Brisson!
Dear readers, don’t forget that these creators are tirelessly running their THIRTY-THREE Kickstarter for just 8 more days! Be sure to check out all their kick-ass rewards, including Will Rosado’s variant cover as well as their single issue covers featuring artists Rosado, Guidry, Downie, and Bex Glendining!