The first issue of central Ohio’s own Nix Comics Quarterly hit local shops and record store this past January. Customarily the launch of any new publication is accompanied by grand pronouncements of impending world domination and assertions that the media landscape will never be the same. Nix Comics‘ self-deprecating founder, funder, editor, and entrepreneur Ken Eppstein sees things a little differently. He humbly asserts that his newest venture may be “the worst idea I ever had.”
That’s not to say Nix Comics is a bad product – it’s certainly not! It’s simply that the likelihood of financial success is slim. In that respect Ken may be right. The odds do appear to be stacked against him. Nix Comics is a print product after all, taking wing in the “print is dead” age. It’s as indie as indie can be; boasting no big name advertisers, no grant money, and no corporate sponsors. Add to that the expense of printing, mailing, and paying artists and you get a sense of the challenge Eppstein faces.
Of course those very challenges dovetail perfectly into the strengths of the Nix Comics enterprise. Ken is a local entrepreneur with loads of local connections. He’s producing a local product, using local artists, and distributing it through local businesses. If the “buy local, support local” recipe can work for food, retail, and music, why can’t it work for a comic book too?
So who exactly is Ken Eppstein, and what is Nix Comics Quarterly? Ken is a self-described American mutt who’s meandered coast to coast (California to New York) before settling down in Columbus. He’s the brains behind the Evil Empire Records as well as the now shuttered Rudy Goose Comics and Records. He’s also the principle writer for Issue #1 of Nix Comics.
Nix Comics Quarterly is a full-color paean to the sometimes-twisted era of classic comics. In short vignettes Nix offers a series of tales that take their cue from science fiction, horror, and super heroes. The stories are short, fast, and a little bit off-kilter (Eppstein’s analogy of comic stories as Ramones songs isn’t far off the mark). Additionally, in perhaps a nod to Cracked and Mad, Issue #1 is peppered with fake ads, (presumably) fake letters to the editor, and in-jokes that shed light on the creative processes behind Nix Comics.
I recently caught up with Ken and asked him a few questions about Nix Comics and the larger comic book scene:
Jeff Regensburger: You’re the principle writer for Issue #1, but you’ve collaborated with a number of different artists. How did you arrive at that arrangement?
Ken Eppstein: Well, it’s not that unusual. The classic comic book creative set up is writer and illustrator, with the occasional double threat guy like who can do both. My skills as an artist hit a plateau around 1990 and I guess I’ve just now come to terms with the fact that I’ll never be one of those double threat guys. Just call me “Single Threat” Eppstein.
That’s not such a bad thing. I think the collaborative relationship adds a lot to an illustrated narrative. The artist and writer end up critiquing each other as part of the production process. That kind of honest assessment is hard to come by in the solipsistic world of the combined artist/writer.
On a basic business level, it makes sense too. If I were flying solo, I’d have only my personal network and resources to begin my marketing. But by adding outside talent, I bring in the already existing fan bases and networks of my artists.
Jeff Regensburger: Is it your intention to keep writing, or are you hoping to fill out subsequent issues with other writers?
Ken Eppstein: My hopes are to find a good ratio of my work to open submission items. Issue #2 is going to have two stories by other writers and four or so that I’ve written. That feels about right to me, give or take a story on either side.
In the good problem to have category, I could see Nix take off to the point that I don’t have as much time to write as I deal with all of the other hats I have to wear as the sole proprietor of the magazine. How cool would that be? I guess I’ll cross that bridge if I ever come to it.
Jeff Regensburger: There’s a clear sense of morality (or at least justice) in a number of the features. Is that something you were aiming for as you were writing?
Ken Eppstein: I would hesitate to say that I was writing with a sense of justice, as that would imply that I think I have the answers to what is right and what is wrong. Like everybody else, I really only have a vague and somewhat fluid idea of what is truly just.
But I would say that the stories I write for Nix are more or less modern fables, so yeah, they were meant to be morally provocative. I think that is an important element of comedy, science fiction and horror whether it’s drawn, written or filmed. The thing about fables is that the characters are usually archetypes and fairly shallow, making character driven stories that much harder, so it’s important to pose a moral puzzler to engage the reader.
Jeff Regensburger: Issue #1 is interesting in that you’ve chronicled a lot of the work and inspiration behind Nix within the comic book itself. You present not just the comics, but also the process behind them. Are these kinds of updates something you expect to continue?
Ken Eppstein: Absolutely! What I’d like to see is indie comics take off like 7″ singles did for garage bands in the 90s. Or microbrews did around the same time.
Right now, every comic book store in the country carries the almost exactly same merchandise as every other comic book store. If you walk into Forbidden Planet in New York City, it has the mostly the same stuff as Laughing Ogre does here in Columbus. That ain’t cool. Not for New York and not for Columbus.
The antidote to that particular poison is strong local production. The comic books made in sold in Columbus should be different than the ones made and sold in other cities. My hopes are that I can do my little part to spur that on by sharing how I do my book.
Jeff Regensburger: There have been quite a few notable comic artists and illustrators with Ohio ties. James Thurber, Milton Caniff, Jeff Smith, Harvey Pekar, Robert Crumb, and Paul Pope come to mind. What is it about Ohio that seems to inspire artists and illustrators?
Ken Eppstein: I dunno. Serpent mounds?
I can of course, only speak for myself. It’s an underdog thing. I think that Ohio, and Columbus in particular, seems to be in a constant search for relevance. “Hey! We’re Ohio! Notice us!”
I know that sounds like a slap, but to me it means that nobody is ever resting on their laurels. There’s always some new idea trying to catch air here. Always somebody running some nutty idea up the ol’ flag pole. I like being in that environment.
Maybe a better question is how do we get them to stay? Starting with Thurber, most of the guys you mentioned bolted for New York or San Francisco.
Jeff Regensburger: What’s the status of the comic scene in Ohio today?
Ken Eppstein: Sadly, I’m not a great person to ask about that. When I had to close Rudy Goose Comics I was heartsick over the whole experience and drifted away from the scene. I was already a dinosaur by then, more interested in the artists of yesteryear than what was being put out by the big two (Marvel and DC) at the time. It wasn’t until I started Nix that I started to redevelop those lost connections.
Want to know a secret, though? I’d like to take the notion of a “comic book scene” out behind the barn. Talk about a straight jacket. When I was growing up, there was a huge fight to prove that comic books could be written for a wider more adult audience. That battle was essentially won with the acclaim that guys like Alan Moore, Art Spiegelman, and Neil Gaiman earned in mainstream culture. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line comic book culture has drifted back into being insular. I want to be inclusive. I’m writing stories about everything from music to politics to waiting for the bus. I’m selling my book at record stores, newsstands, gift shops and coffee shops in addition to comic shops. Nix is for everyone, not just a small scene.
Jeff Regensburger: How can Columbus Underground readers support Nix comics?
Ken Eppstein: The biggest help would be helping stir up some hubbub. Talk about the book. Write a review on a blog. Send a link to the website to a friend. Report me to the proper authorities. That kind of thing. The best support is the grass roots.
I guess folks need to buy it, before they can talk about it, though, huh?
There are still copies at all of the local shops carrying copies of issue #1, which you can find a list of at the website.
I’m currently running a kickstarter.com campaign for issue #2 It provides a pretty convenient way to pre-order a copy of the second issue.
Jeff Regensburger: If you’re curious about what’s up next for Nix Comics, here’s some dates and events to keep in mind:
- Small Press and Creator Owned Comics (S.P.A.C.E) March 19-20, Columbus, OH.
- Tentative Street Date for Issue #2 – April 15
- Multiple Alternative Realities Convention (MARCON) May 27-29, Columbus, OH.
Title panel, “It’s Tuesday Night in Ohio” by Michael Neno
Nick, panel from “The Devil & Ellis Church” by Ryan Brinkerhoff
Issue #1 Cover “The Devil & Ellis Church” by Darren Merinuk
Jeff Regensburger is a painter, librarian, and drummer in the (currently dormant) rock combo The Patsys. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts (Painting and Drawing) from The Ohio State University in 1990 and an Master’s Degree in Library Science from Kent State University in 1997. Jeff blogs sporadically (OnSummit.blogspot.com), tweets occasionally (@jeffrey_r), and paints as time allows.