When Kevin Cuffe sits down to plot out his next graphic novel, he reflects on both the serious and silly aspects of his life.
“It’s dangerous to know a writer,” Cuffe said. “You’ll end up in a comic book.”
For Frantz, this is one of the multiple projects he has worked on with Cuffe. For Cuffe, this is the fifth comic he has authored, three of which have been standalone titles that have been self-published.
This newest work looks to be no different.
“We’ve taken the story to publishers, but they’ve said they don’t know how to market it. But we think, just because they don’t know how to market it doesn’t mean it isn’t marketable,” Cuffe said.
It is with that attitude that Cuffe and Frantz decided to continue forward in their publishing efforts and start a Kickstarter campaign to fund their passion project.
“I think that’s an important thing nowadays,” Cuffe said. “Just because you don’t have permission to create something doesn’t mean you can’t find a way.”
“Media isn’t exclusive anymore,” he said. “If you have an idea and the willingness to put yourself out there, your idea can really resonate with people.”
After about a week, the funding campaign has raised $10,280 of the duo’s goal of $24,666. The catch with Kickstarter, though, is that a campaign needs to reach a goal by a certain date or none of the pledged money will be donated to the project. For “Metalshark Bro!,” the comic has until Aug. 8 to reach its goal.
“Sometimes I’ll stare at the Kickstarter page for minutes at a time just hoping the numbers will change,” Frantz said.
Cuffe hasn’t started to feel the pressure yet, though. In the past he has successfully funded the projects, and he hopes that this time will be the same. The authors market their work on various social media platforms, as well as on their podcast, Word Bros.
After taking the idea for “Metalshark Bro!” to a few comic conventions, Cuffe and Frantz found that it was well-received, which encouraged them to continue with the project.
That’s this kind of supportive nature in the comic book community that Cuffe loves.
“It’s such an inclusive community, if you have any interest in anything, even something as seemingly random as knitting, there’s a comic book for you,” Cuffe said.
In addition to visiting his favorite comic book store, Heroes & Villains in Hampton, Cuffe participates in the monthly meetings of Power in the Panels at the Williamsburg Regional Library, where local comic book fans meet to discuss graphic novels. Emma Pruss, a librarian at the library who organizes the group, said Cuffe has helped grow the community’s comic book collection and is testimony to authors with unique storytelling abilities.
“There’s so much more diversity in this work, too,” Cuffe said. “The beauty about this industry is that it’s not restrictive to just what will sell the most. It’s about people, characters and connections. It’s telling a good tale outside the boundaries of normal storytelling.”
Telling a unique story is what Cuffe loves about writing graphic novels, but he said it has taken him a few years to hone his skills.
“You can have an amazing plot, but that’s not what makes a good story. It’s the characters,” he said. “No matter what your plot is, someone has already done something similar. But if your character is different, then people will think it’s the most original thing that’s ever happened.storytelly
“The key is that you’re just playing with different combination of notes that they haven’t heard before,” he said.
For Frantz, storytelling comes naturally, and he found that writing comic books seemed like the best way to use his skills.
“I’m going to tell people stories no matter what, that’s what I do,” he said. “So instead of just boring my wife and kids, I went out and found a community that enjoyed something similar.”
The making of a graphic novel
When the pair start a new project, the idea usually just comes out of everyday life, Cuffe said.
The idea for “Metalshark Bro!” came when Frantz was driving home from a comic convention in Hampton Roads and heard a radio announcer say that research shows sharks enjoy listening to heavy-metal music. He was so excited about the idea that he called Cuffe at 5 a.m., and they talked on the phone about it while he drove nine hours through the Blue Ridge mountains.
“I called him and said, ‘I just heard the best thing in the world — sharks dig metal,” Frantz said. “Then we spent hours on the phone trying to make each other giggle about the idea.”
That’s where the life of a comic book begins, with just an idea and some fun, Cuffe said. Once there is an idea, the writers put together a plot, taking turns writing the script until they have enough for about a 24-page graphic novel.
Publishing a graphic novel is expensive, though, Cuffe said. Not only does money need to be raised to publish a physical copy of the novel, but Cuffe said one of the most important parts of raising the money is making sure they can pay their artist, Walter Ostlie, and letterer Shawn Greenleaf, what they deserve.
That’s why the creators implemented different incentives for donations on Kickstarter, with large donations such as $275 to earn a donor a cameo role in the story or $350 for a donor to be killed by Metalshark Bro in one of the panels.
These are the various changes in the final product of their creation that Frantz and Cuffe not only expect, but enjoy.
“From start to finish, a comic book will never be exactly what you expected,” Cuffe said. “It’s a collaborative effort with multiple people, it’s all about putting yourself into it, passing it onto the next person and making something unique. That’s why comic books, well they’re made for everyone to enjoy.”
This story was published in partnership with our sister publication, WYDaily.