Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming launch of ©alifornia, Inc. through Kickstarter! For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the series’ premise, and what was its inspiration?
Arthur N. Ebuen: Thanks, Barbra, and thank you for taking the time to get to know more about the story with me. The quick elevator pitch for the series: In the near future, ©alifornia, Inc. is a new corporate country still in its formative years with factions in-fighting to achieve their ideal of what the new nation should be.
As inspiration, I was raised and started my creative career in Southern California as an Illustrator and Animator for T.V. In my 20s, I went back to school on the East Coast where I have friends and family in Boston, New York, and throughout Florida. Something I learned the many times I’ve been in the middle of the U.S., they think those of us on coasts are odd, especially Californians. While working in corporate America as a Senior Graphic Designer, I read that California was the 5th strongest economy in the world. I also found the corporate world hilariously fascinating, so rigid and chaotically organized with so much internal politics, not too different from geopolitics. From there a lot of the pieces came together. I was asking myself, “What’s stopping California from being on its own? It has a range of unique resources from tech in Silicon Valley, to agriculture, and Hollywood as P.R., how could it innovate a new functioning nation?”
BD: How would you describe your shared creative process in bringing this story to life alongside artist Dave Law, editor Justin Giampaoli, and letterer Frank Cvetkovic, and what (or who) were some of your creative influences in terms of the characters and tone?
ANE: When it comes to collaborating with me, I always remind myself, “Trust your partners.” Think of a brand’s style guide, the creator of it can be strict and tell those who use it, they have to follow the guide’s rules as they’re spelled out. My angle on that is, “Hey, creative partner, here are your tools and the sandbox - go have fun!” I was a creative in advertising for 18 years, it’s all collaboration. The work falls flat when someone doesn't put in their best effort. Creatives work best when we’re empowered to be creative. I’m currently working with Don Aguillo on a variant cover for this issue. We had a call to talk more about the story and characters, my only note was, “Have fun making a cover you’d want to see.” A few days went by and he shot me over a comp with a character I would never have thought of for a cover. I was floored, in a good way. Wow, what he created brought to life something in the story that I couldn’t put into words. Trust your partners. I trust Dave, Justin, and Frank to do what they do to enhance the story and they’ve done just that.
T.V. is an influence for me. I prefer the long form of T.V. over movies, not that I don’t like movies, but I enjoy the chance to get invested in the slow build of a meaningful character in T.V. like The Wire and Breaking Bad. The geopolitical strategies of Homeland and the in-fighting of Succession influenced ©alifornia, Inc. In my years in creative advertising, there’s a lot of planning, research, and strategizing designed for maximum impact in a very short amount of time whether it be a billboard, a short 30-second commercial, or a surprise experiential event. I’ve always wanted to use the power of all that early research for long-form storytelling. Comics get to do that for a fraction of the price of a T.V. show.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that ©alifornia, Inc.’s story will connect with and impact readers, and why was it important to bring the story to life?
ANE: Whoa, this is a heavy one for me. There are a lot of my lived experiences that made their way into this story through all the characters. These are characters looking to do what they think is “right.” How they do it and why may contradict what they stand for. Are they doing what’s right, or are they fueled by personal agenda? Do they know it consciously? A lot of us have pushed to get what we think is right. Was is it right or was it for power? Was anyone hurt in the process? Was it worth it? Most importantly, did you learn and grow from that experience?
BD: Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter have provided a wonderful opportunity for creators of all mediums to reach new audiences. What encouraged you to utilize Kickstarter for the series, and what can supporters anticipate in terms of backer rewards once the campaign is live in February?
ANE: When I was originally writing this, I planned for this to be pitched to bigger publishers. Over the years I’ve met more and more Kickstarter creators, only to find more micro-brew if you will, stories I never knew existed. It was like discovering a new kind of candy shop. It’s a different time now. Instead of hoping to be picked up by a publisher, creatives have more tools and power to make anything they want, breaking a lot of conventional thinking of how comics can be made and distributed. Creators are growing their own fanbase. It’s empowering. The best part: the Kickstarter community is very encouraging. We all want to see each other win and get funded. It’s nice to see the community rally together.
One thing I’m doing differently is I’m compensating the team up front and out of my own pocket to have this completed and ready for printing before we complete the Kickstarter campaign. This includes the add-ons; I have more than half of the items in hand. It’s a big financial risk for me, but we’ve all heard that you have to be able to bet on yourself if you’re going to ask others to bet on you. I’m treating this Kickstarter as a presale and as a way to grow an audience. As a thank you to backers, I want them to get their rewards as soon as possible.
I have some fun backer rewards setup: From the simple, but easily digestible, digital-only version to the standard physical copy. There are tiers that include a signed copy of the standard cover plus a signed physical script. There will be four variant covers as add-ons each illustrated by Dave, Don Aguillo, Andrea Mutti, and myself. Other add-ons will be in-world items like a corporate pin using the logo mark and a military rank patch worn by one of the characters, General Courtney Vesla. There will be other exclusive/limited tiers, one that include all of the above plus a commission from Dave himself.
BD: Are there any other upcoming projects on which you are working that you are able to share with our readers?
ANE: This is issue one of four. I have completed writing the full miniseries with Justin’s blessings (editing completed). We hope to keep the ball rolling if this campaign is successful. I’ll use the funding from this issue to continue the making of the rest of the series. While I’m in the middle of producing those issues, I’m writing a one-off spin-off from characters introduced in issue #2. Separately from the ©alifornia, Inc. world, I’m working on a very personal story. I’m not sure if it’ll see the light of day outside of my own eyes, it’s that personal. I’m thinking this is my way around getting therapy, as working on it has been cathartic. But from my experience, the more personal and specific the projects are, surprisingly the more they connect. We’ll see.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about ©alifornia, Inc.?
ANE: I’ll end with, “©alifornia, Inc. is little more than a totalitarian state masquerading as a utopia. No one is bigger than the brand, even the top brass.” When you’re on top, there’s always someone below gunning for your spot. Remember, you were once down there looking up.