Bryant Dillon, Fanbase Press President: For those unfamiliar with Table Stakes, can you tell us a little about the focus of this documentary short?
Chris Adams, Joe Thompson, and Khai Thu Nguyen: Table Stakes centers on Joe Thompson and Chris Adams’ story, two African American writers working to make comics in a field dominated by white and Asian writers, revealing the struggles they’ve had to overcome. Director Khai Thu Nguyen wanted to highlight artists of color in the comic book and movie industry and the challenges they face to gain audience attention.
The documentary spotlights the challenge, struggle, dedication, and ultimately perseverance demonstrated by creative individuals in an effort to make their dreams come true. Featuring Joe Thompson, Chris Adams, Joseph & Lydia Thompson, Crystal Perry, Bryant Dillon, Russell Nohelty, and Jesse Aguilar, it was produced by Arthur Yee and Khai Thu Nguyen, with Arthur Yee as director of photography, Javid Soriano as editor, and Emily Pitts as composer.
BD: How did you become aware of Fracture Comics, and why were they the perfect subject for your documentary short?
KTN: I met Chris Adams and Joe Thompson of Fracture Comics through our producer and director of photography Arthur Yee who knew Chris from their work in filmmaking. We met for the first time in 2018 at Barnes and Noble, Chris’ favorite place to go to read comics from when he was young. I was very inspired by Joe and Chris’ talent, passion, and determination in their pursuit of comic book writing. They were also incredibly articulate about their experiences and challenges as men of color in the comic book industry so I personally wanted to hear more from their perspective as artists.
BD: What do you hope viewers take away from Table Stakes?
CA and JT: We want people to realize that nothing worth doing is easy, but everything you want is achievable, whether it be in the short or long term. Even this documentary was made with little to no budget, through the ambitions and dedication of those involved. Every person had to sacrifice something, be it their time, energy, or even their vulnerability. It’s a story about success, what it takes to achieve, and how no matter how it looks, effort will equate to results in some kind of way. It may just come down to how each individual defines their own success.
KTN: What I enjoy the most about Table Stakes is the focus I got to have on Chris and Joe. I hope that viewers walk away from Table Stakes with a good sense of who Joe and Chris are, feeling like they got an intimate perspective of another person’s experience and could walk briefly in their shoes. It’s an experience of empathy and stepping into the shoes of another however much that is possible. Chris and Joe are also powerful illustrations of the determination to create a space for yourself and to place people of color at the forefront of artistic work, and being true to yourself in what you put out into the world.
BD: What did you learn and/or discover during the filming of this documentary? Are there any views of yours that changed during or as a result of the filming?
CA and JT: I discovered that despite how it looks, Fracture Comics has achieved much over the last few years. Having to think about it all, look back, and reflect has shown me that while I still feel I have a long way to go to succeed in my ultimate goal, I’ve come a long way already, further than many that have tried. I would say that if anything has changed, it’s my perspective. There’s still so much I want to do but I won’t let that diminish everything I’ve already accomplished. Everything I’ve done and will do gets to be celebrated and used to propel me further towards where I want to go.
KTN: I think our entire team came out stronger, as Chris and Joe articulated an empowering narrative of their experience to create greater meaning for themselves. Having gone to film school themselves, they were intimately familiar with the filmmaking process and as writers they played a major role in crafting the message of their own stories. I learned to listen to their stories and nurture the message that they were bringing out to the audience while connecting through my own experiences as an immigrant and person of color. I most enjoyed the relationships I built through the interview and shooting process with Joe and Chris, their families, and the incredible crew involved with the project.
BD: What has the response been like to the short? What do viewers seem to connect most to in your opinion?
All: The response to this film has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve seen support from all connections related to those involved and that’s caused a few others to take notice as well. Every time we show the film we are constantly asked if we have the comics available for purchase from people that simply want to support. The viewers connect with the story, the likeable main characters, and the message that each of us can achieve our goals if we move forward with love and determination for whatever it is we seek.
The film also did very well on the festival circuit. It was nominated Best Short Film at the San Diego Black Film Festival 2019 and won Best Documentary Short at The World’s Independent Film Festival. The film was selected for screening at New York African Film Festival (See screening info below.), Napa Valley Film Festival, San Diego Asian Film Festival, San Diego Black Film Festival, San Francisco Documentary Festival, Oakland International Film Festival, California Independent Film Festival, Afro Comic Con, Viet Film Fest, Black Film Festival of New Orleans, and Los Angeles Black Film Festival. At the screenings, we received tremendous support for Chris and Joe. Audiences loved their personalities and felt very connected to them. Artists in particular identified with their struggles and received inspiration from their determination, friendship, and supportive families. The support of the audiences made us feel that this film was very successful.
BD: From your experiences filming, what are the biggest challenges facing indie creators trying to break into the comic scene?
CA and JT: I believe the biggest challenge facing indie creators is exposure. Many creators believe it is enough to simply create their product and know that it exists, the hard part is over. Creating is actually the easiest step, marketing is the hardest. Getting a comic into the hands of people who are used to buying from Marvel and DC and convincing them that your work is worthy of their attention, as well, can be an uphill battle. People support commodities they are familiar with and are understandably resistant to the unfamiliar. Will you continue creating, will you be around in a year? These are questions that apply to the bigger publisher stories and writer runs, as well, but there is a comfort in knowing that even if the writer changes, Spider-man is here to stay. Competing in that world can be both taxing and exhilarating.
BD: Do you think you'll take part in other documentaries with a comic book or comic industry focus? Or is there another direction you anticipate for your filmmaking?
CA and JT: For me, if I am approached to do a documentary with any of my specific stories given the spotlight on what inspired me and what caused them to be, I would happily engage in that journey. The most rewarding experience for a writer is being able to discuss their work with excited people who simply want to know more about the story itself, the characters, and what caused it all to be.
KTN: I would be excited to work on other documentaries on the comic book or comic book industry. A lot of my focus in my documentary filmmaking is about highlighting artists of color in their unique point of view that they contribute to art making and how their perspectives impact their work to speak to the world that they are living in. I’m continuing to have these goals as I move forward in both documentary and narrative filmmaking.
BD: What has happened regarding Fracture Comics and their projects since filming completed? Any updates on their path to success?
All: Currently, Joe has finished production on Volume 2 of his main Hellfire title, and Chris has completed Volume 2 of Death of Darkness. They are currently working on other projects, too, such as Essex for Joe, a comedy manga called Sugar Rush, a new novel set to release later in the year for Chris called Revysed, and a brand new manga story that’s been completed and is entering into production titled, Edge of the End. With the current pandemic, they aren’t doing any conventions and, honestly, probably would have taken the year off to focus on their stories, but the coming years should prove to be very exciting for Fracture Comics!
BD: Where can our readers find out more about you or Table Stakes?
Table Stakes is currently showing at New York African Film Festival, co-presented by Film at Lincoln Center. You can buy tickets here.
You can follow Fracture Comics on Instagram and if you want to purchase physical copies of their work but can’t make it to a convention, their books are available to print on demand at the website indyplanet.com. You could find out about Khai’s latest projects at www.khaithu.com.