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Interview with Adam Jack of Under Belly Comics

Within the past year, Under Belly Comics is gaining a large presence for themselves in the comics industry. Founded by co-publishers and writers Adam Jack and Kyle Joseph McEwan to publish their own works. Due to high demand of submissions they were getting, Adam and Kyle decided to also publish creator owned titles in their catalogue. 2016 looks to be a big year for Under Belly as they continue to expand and search for the freshest and most innovative comics from around the world. CBNAH staff writer Panagiotis Drakopoulos caught up with co-publisher and author Adam Jack to discuss about the history of the company, upcoming titles, using Kickstarter and more.

CBNAH: First off, how was Ottawa Comic Con and did you discover any young talent at the con?

Adam Jack: Actually, we had quite a few people come up and pitch us books. We had three to four books are in the process of greenlighting from the con. Meeting talent  was one of the best parts of that con.

CBNAH: Were most of the talent coming from Artists' Alley and presenting their books to you?

AJ: Yeah, that's exactly it. People saw our booth and some of them heard of us before, came up and gave us a quick elevator pitch and a couple of people actually handed us books, right there on the spot. We went through and some of them were fantastic. So, we already started moving forward with a couple of them.

CBNAH: Can you please tell us about Under Belly Comics and how the company started up?

AJ: It originally started as sort of a platform for Kyle (Joseph  McEwan, co-publisher and writer) and myself to publish our own works. The idea was going to be a collected -- where we put out our graphic novel or comic series here and there because we're both writers and we work with so many different artists. But soon as we launched the website, people started sending us emails about, "Are you taking submissions?" For a good year and a half we kept saying, "No, no, no, this is just us. This is our thing, sorry." But people started sending them in anyway. Some of them were so great that we sat there and had a conversation like "This is stupid." Why are we saying "No" to people with these fantastic books out there that don't have homes and they need one? So that sort of where Under Belly stems from. Since we started taking submissions officially, which is only last summer. We've now signed about fifth-sixteen books at this point.       

CBNAH: What titles are coming out later this year and can you tell a bit about them?

AJ: Ones coming to print, right away we have The List the Hardcover edition by Paul Bedford, Henry Pop and Tom Bonin. That came out originally in Australia and had a lot of success down there. But we just launced a Kickstarter for it and was successful. That's going to print literally any day now and so that will be on our site for sale. We Kickstart everything first, so there are some pretty big Kickstarters coming out. Space Milkshake which is a graphic novelization of a semi-popular B movie from 2012. George Takei does the voice of Gary the Duck in the film, so we're doing the graphic novelization. Job Dun: Fat Assassin that one is going to be huge when it comes out. The art is phenomenal and the story is fantastic, it's just great and I love that book. Oh, the list goes on and on, I can't even think of them.

CBNAH: You have some titles that are currently on comiXology. Within the next few years, did you see UBC moving away from print and focus more on digital comics? Or maybe use Kickstarter for the printed titles? 

AJ: Kickstarter is our main focus. Every book we launched has been Kickstarted first and digital is actually on the back burner for us. We have a few titles on comiXology but it's just to build the audience. So, when we launch our Kickstarters people are familiar with it. To me, digital is sure the way of the future, but I hate it. Personally I hate reading books digitally and prefer having a physical copy in my hands. Especially we don't do series, really, I mean we release series digital first to build up our audience but graphic novels is our focus. To me, to sit and read a whole graphic novel on my iPad is just tedious. I tried when I first got my iPad it was sort of my justification to buy it for myself. I'm a huge Top Shelf (Productions) fan, so I went on and downloaded their whole digital library and honestly I haven't read most of it. Most of them I already owned on hard copies because I just can't get into the -- it doesn't have the same feel. It's going to sound old school to say but holding a book in your hand and flipping through the paper that's reading a comic. 

CBNAH: Speaking of Kickstarter, we're seeing a lot of small and large comics publishers using it to fund new projects like in case of Archie Comics or reprinting classic materials. How much pressure is on you and the company to reach the stretch goal for a project? 

AJ: There is a lot of pressure running a Kickstarter is a full time job, hands down. We've launched sixteen books in the last six months and thirteen of those sixteen have been successful for us. We're sort of in the perfect size for Kickstarter, but I think people start to get a little resentful or reluctant is when huge companies that don't really need that help are asking. Some people just love the idea of wanting to get their special extras and stuff like, so they will back them anyway. But really with Kickstarter we do it because we don't have that other option. We don't have a huge amount of capital that we can just throw it behind these books to get them out there. I mean I would love it if I did that -- I would love to not Kickstarter for every single book that we put out. But frankly, that's how we do it. That's the way we can afford it is that we pre-sale the books. We're a tiny company -- we're essentially two guys in the basement putting out graphic novels. With Kickstarter it allows us to take risks on books that are a little different, edgy or risky. Without that we have to be very selected about what books we decide to back because we have some capital, we can put out some books out traditionally but would be maybe five years we're looking it.

CBNAH: Has there been internal talks within the company to published an anthology like a Heavy Metal or Weekly Shonen Jump? Or do you feel it's a bit risky at the moment? 

AJ: Oh, absolutely! It's on our radar, it's something that we really want to do. It's about finding the right subject matter and finding something that really speaks to us.

CBNAH: Has there any talks of publishing any Manhwa, Manhua or Filipino comics?

AJ: To be honest, I'm not that familiar with it but our whole mantra is that a good book is a good book. So, if someone from the Philippines and I read their book and say, "Hey, you know we can have success publishing this book here. Are you interested?" If I love the book, I'm going to put it out. It's really that simple. We have books from all over the world. Several books from Finland that we're putting out, many from Australia and a couple from New Zealand. There's no borders on Under Belly, like I said, "If it's a great book we will absolutely put it out."   

CBNAH: As a writer, do you experience bouts of writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it or did you push yourself forward?

AJ: Writer's block has actually never been an issue for me. My main problem is having too many stories in my head all trying to come out at once and trying to focus on one. More recently, putting on the publisher's hat for both Kyle and myself there isn't a lot time to sit down and write our own stuff. At Ottawa Comic Con in our downtime that's one of the things we discussed that both of us have really been working on finishing on one of the books that we've going because we've got these great ideas, now push them aside so we can work on everyone else's stuff. But both of us want to release at least one more book before the end of 2015.

CBNAH: With submissions what advice do you have for young writers and artists when they submit their work to you?  

AJ: Now, we were very loose about what we will look at -- we have taken ideas right from concept to putting the book out, but the closer you are to being done the more likely it is that we're going to pick you up, at this stage of the game. If you got some fantastic, amazing idea and you only got a couple of pages done and a script, if it's that brilliant, of course we're not going to turn our back on it. But again the farther you are along to being done, the more likely we're going to push forward. 

CBNAH: Do you see the company expanding later this or next year with more titles coming out from you guys?

AJ: Absolutely! Right now, we're still in almost our infancy. We only been taking submissions for less than a year at this point and have only five books at print at the moment. But we're locking in distribution right now, which originally we just did it on our own by talking to comic book store owners and things like that. It's kind at the point where we have so many books that we're going to have to go the Diamond route and other places. So once we get all of our distribution in place and pulling in more books, we're absolutely have to do the whole going to the office everyday and hiring editors and submissions editors. We're hoping that will probably be around late this year or 2016. 

CBNAH: What's the most fun aspect of your job as a publisher?

AJ: You know what it is? Reading all of these books. I love -- I LOVE comics. My background is originally in film & television and I sort of just got into comics in the last five years or so. But just being able to read through all of these fantastic and completely independent graphic novels that I would otherwise not get the chance to see. That's probably the best part of my job. I absolutely love them and if every time I open one of them, big fanboy when I get to sit there and read through it.

Check out:

Under Belly Comics site
UBC on Facebook 
UBC on Twitter 


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