Interview with Kevin Freeman and Stan Yan of “SubCulture Omnibus” from Action Lab – Part One

subculture coverRecently, we reviewed “SubCulture Omnibus” by Kevin Freeman and Stan Yan, coming soon from Action Lab.  This week we had the opportunity to sit down with Kevin and Stan for to talk about this very entertaining project – here is part one of that interview.

TMStash: It was a pleasure getting to read “SubCulture Omnibus”.  I was trying to describe this series to my family and said that if “Big Bang Theory” had more heart it would be “SubCulture”.

KEVIN: That’s high praise, thanks!

TMStash:  While I’m a fan of “BBT”, there are times that it seems to be laughing at the characters instead of with them.  “SubCulture” seems to celebrate geek culture, but it has fun with the characters instead of at their expense.

KEVIN: That was the idea, but when the mini-series first came out we actually got a couple of reviews that said just that, that these were just stereotypes of geek culture.  My argument always was that these were not stereotypes, in fact they’re archetypes. You just look around and you can see dozens of people that resemble a lot of the characters that we’re doing.  We’re all part of the same culture, so making fun of them is in a negative way is hurting yourself as much as anything. We all have a lot of interesting and fun characteristics, so our idea was to explore all of that in a positive way.

TMStash: Since you live so far apart (North Carolina and Colorado), how did the two of you get together to do “SubCulture”?

STAN: I had actually been working as a stock broker for about 13 years while I self-published my own projects. I got laid off twice in three years and decided, “You know maybe I should see if I can freelance full time.”  By the second time I got laid off I was like, “You know I really need to make a concerted effort to find work”, and so I started combing the internet and found a posting by Kevin on “Digital Webbing Presents” looking for an artist for a geek-based comic.  He was actually mentioning all these artists that I admire, as well as it being kind of slice-of-life which is kind of what my forte is. It was really something I really wanted to do.  So I just happened to, if I remember correctly Kevin, I was the first person to respond to the listing.

KEVIN: Yeah, I got a little over a hundred people who were interested in the gig and sent me samples, and in fact Stan’s was the very first one that I got. I guess its kind of fate because Stan’s art style was kind of the standard on which I based all the other ones, and I didn’t like anybody else’s as much as I liked his.  I whittled it down to two and I had both of them do a three page spread, three pages from the first issue, and I liked Stan’s better and the rest as we say is history. That was way back in 2006.

TMStash: Before this, Stan was doing a web comic called “The Wang” – can you tell us a bit more about that project?

STAN: Most of my stuff has been slice of life, so while I was still working as a stock broker a lot of the material that I’ve been putting into “The Wang” was, it was kind of a dumping ground for all sorts of things that were very personal to me.  My main character Eugene Wang was following my early career through the brokerage industry so he got to be a way for me to vent about my job, although there was definitely kind of a Doppler effect so a lot of things that happened took me years and years to get into the book. Just like a bad relationship, you don’t know how bad it is until you’re out of it.  So, fortunately for me I was able to build my portfolio by doing all these self-published comics that got collected into trade paperbacks and actually one of the first things that I sent to Kevin when he was looking for artists was my first trade paperback of the collected “Wang” stories, which is about less than half the material I ended up developing for the whole series, just to give him kind of an idea about what my humorous writing style was like and how it might mesh with what he was doing with “SubCulture”, so I think that was helpful as well.

TMStash: “SubCulture” started as a four issue mini-series for Ape Entertainment.  How did you start there?

KEVIN: I had an inside track because I was the managing editor for Ape Entertainment for seven years. I decided I wanted to do my own book and Brent Erwin and David Hedgecock said “yeah go right ahead” and so I did it and they agreed to publish it, so I kind of cheated at first (laughter).

TMStash: After the mini-series ended, how did you decide to continue this as a web comic, especially for such a long time?

STAN: Well, at the end of the mini-series, Kevin and I kind of talked about whether or not we wanted to do some web strips.  We had actually done a few for promotional purposes, I can’t even remember it was so long ago.

KEVIN: Yeah, when the first trade paperback, the collected edition came out and was being solicited, Stan and I decided to do six stand-alone web strips to promote the mini-series, and we kind of liked the format, sort of liked the gag-a-day idea. We explored some of the other characters, and Stan and I looked at each other and said, “Hey, this isn’t such a bad idea, you interested in maybe doing a little more of these”, and 501 strips later we did it for quite a long time.  That’s an eternity as far as web comics go.

TMStash: You left a great ending, leaving the reader to decide if Jason and Noel ever get back together.

KEVIN: That’s right. That last bit was actually inspired, and to be perfectly honest the end of the mini-series was inspired by “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman.  I don’t know if you’re familiar with the movie but at the end they run away together, they’re on the back of the bus, and they’re smiling, they’re excited, and as the trip goes on their faces get a little less happy and less happy and then you’re wondering at the end what’s really going to happen, and that’s the emotion that I wanted to create at the end of the story.

TMStash: One thing in “SubCulture” that was amazing to me was the number of Easter Eggs you have hidden there.

KEVIN: A few of the important characters from “The Wang” made cameos in “SubCulture”.

STAN: Yeah, probably a little bit more than they should have (Laughter) and I was really bad about pimping stuff, cross-pimping stuff through “SubCulture” but I figured, the characters were always wearing geeky t-shirts I might as well sneak a few things in there.

KEVIN: There’s stuff like that all over the place, and in the trade paperback we’ve done several pages that explain Easter Eggs that you see  throughout the entire series, what these things mean, where the t-shirts come from, posters on the wall.  A lot of that was inside jokes, and we wanted people to know what all of that was about.

TMStash: It was a VERY extensive list!

STAN: We actually cut a lot out too! It took me a while to weed a few of them out.

KEVIN: Yeah, that could have been three times as long. Stan’s a genius at inserting a lot of those subtle things into the strips, and I gave him creative license to pretty much do that as much as he wants, and every time it’s funny.

TMStash: As for the characters in “SubCulture”, are any of them directly drawn from someone you know or are they more amalgams of people you’ve met?

KEVIN: Yes and no.  Most of them are little bits and pieces of people that Stan and I have met over the years, and probably a little piece of each of us in there as well.  The only character that’s based on a quasi-real person is Bart, the comic book store owner, and he’s a combination of two or three people.  He’s a combination of “Weird Pete” from “Knights of the Dinner Table”, he also had little bit of Comic Book Guy from “The Simpsons”, and he’s also based on the owner of the comic book store that I frequented in Birmingham, Alabama when I lived there, although it’s not in existence anymore.  He was a guy who ate French fries and ketchup by the gallon, and he would fall asleep in the back of the store. Sometimes, people would have to poke him if they wanted to buy anything.  (Laughter) But a lot of this is observational humor from what Stan and I see at conventions, or what we see on message boards, or Facebook, or just in the industry in general.  We’ll scribble things down that we think would be funny to introduce into one of our existing characters or create a situation around them.  And there’s endless material, it never runs out.

TMStash: How did you handle the creative process for “SubCulture”? How did you get scripts and artwork back and forth?

KEVIN: We use Dropbox primarily to share the files with each other. That’s the easiest way for us, especially since the trade paperbacks, what, 120 megs, Stan? So it’s not an easy thing to e-mail back and forth to each other, so we upload and re-upload things on Dropbox.

TMStash: Now that “SubCulture Omnibus” is ready, do you have any more joint projects? Or, do you just plan to sit down and have a beer sometime at Heroes Con?

STAN: Or at Denver Comic Con probably

KEVIN: The Denver Comic Con is where we’ll debut the Omnibus.  But, Stan and I don’t have anything in the immediate future planned.  We left the “SubCulture” story open on purpose so if we ever decided we wanted to do more, and hey maybe the Omnibus will bring readers out of the woodwork and they will demand more and we we’re certainly willing to listen to them to do a few more.  Both of us have creative projects that we’ve wanted to do on our own for a while, so we thought to stop “SubCulture” temporarily would be good for both of us.  I’m doing a lot of stuff with Action Lab now, and Stand has a lot of his own projects to work on.  But, will we return to “SubCulture”? Maybe, you never know.

TMStash:  That’s it for Part One – stay tuned for Part Two of our interview, where we talk about Kevin’s and Stan’s influences as creators and about their other upcoming projects!

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Ed is a long-time comics collector, going back to the days when comics were only 12 cents. He reviews DC titles and a variety of Indie publishers here at TMStash.

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