Creator interview #43: Chris Dickens 1

Hello everyone,

On deck today we have Chris Dickens. Chris is one-half of Yvette Avenue Productions; the Creators, Writers, and Executive Producers of Vigilante Project. And now for the interview…

When did you first get into comics as a reader/fan? As a writer/artist/creator?

I first got into comics when my best friend and writing partner Phil Morgenthaler showed me his collection of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics. Up to that point I’d only seen the pizza-loving, cowabunga turtles on TV and film. But when Phil brought out his comics, I was in love!

Why comics? What do you like most about this medium?

Initially my comic love was based on other media. Most of the comics I followed I first knew as films or TV shows. From TMNT I moved on to The Crow. From The Crow I went to Spawn, and after Spawn I started reading Batman. What I liked most was that the comics were so much grittier and more realistic. After reading comics, the films and TV shows felt too soft and squishy. I never looked back.

Say a little about the project(s) you have worked on in the past (if any), and what they were about?

In 2009, we came up with Vigilante Project which we approached as a film first. Our main character is Alvin Gentry. He’s a normal college student with something of a dark past. After his kid sister is kidnapped, raped, and murdered, Alvin becomes obsessed with tracking down the person responsible. With no special training, experience, or resources Alvin takes on what he calls his vigilante project, ultimately risking everything to save another little girl being held by the same man.

The idea of creating my own comics has been rolling around in my head for years. However I’d always assumed that we (Phil and I) would make a movie, and then create a graphic novel based on the movie. Fortunately for us we found an agency that represents both comics and film, and when we sat down with our agent, he suggested that we make the comic first.

What project(s) are you currently working on?

Vigilante Project is rolling along. While we’d love to put out a book every month, we’re aiming for quarterly releases right now. Our team is phenomenal with Chris Campana on pencils, Nik Poliwko doing inks, and Ron Wybraniec supplying the colors, but most of us have day jobs and other responsibilities that demand our attention. So until circumstances change, quarterly will have to do. Vigilante Project is also in development as a cable TV series, so that’s promising.

We also have a side project called Make You a Hero, which is like caricature on steroids. Make You a Hero started with our Kickstarter project where we offered backers an opportunity to create their own characters to appear in an upcoming book. The response was overwhelming! It seemed that just about everyone wanted to be made into a comic book character. Keep in mind that we don’t make a giant headed goofy picture like you get at the fair. Our guys go all out and make you into a full-fledged comic book hero.

Other than that, we’re working on a new graphic novel called Operation: Party Pooper. It’s a story taken directly from our childhood. Phil’s ex-girlfriend was having a birthday party and she and her friends planned to come and toilet paper our houses. So we set up this elaborate counter attack with water balloons, water hoses, and super soakers. We called the plan Operation: Party Pooper and it was awesome! The book is about the events leading up to the big showdown, and then of course the showdown itself. We hope to have it done by the end of the year.

What format(s) do you prefer for telling your stories (e.g., on-going series, mini-series, one-shot, graphic novel, etc.) and why?

I don’t have a preference. I just love storytelling. Vigilante Project is a series, whereas Operation: Party Pooper is a graphic novel. Phil’s working on a novel and of course we have our film and TV aspirations. We just love storytelling and the idea of sharing our visions with the world.

What sources of information and inspiration have helped you along the way?

My faith is a big part of my life and I am inspired through my devotionals and daily Bible reading. Our families and our desires to make them proud are a source of inspiration as well, but more than anything I am driven to do what I love. That is what makes me passionate about creating. I genuinely, truly love doing it.

As far as information, we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the Indie Comic and Art Forum on Facebook. That place has been and continues to be a goldmine for us. We found our artists there, we got a lot of support for Kickstarter there, and the articles and discussions posted are educational and help to get your creative juices flowing.

Say a little about how you’ve been able to communicate your faith through your project(s)? What has that process been like? How has it evolved over the years?

The Lord works in mysterious ways. I found a script coach through Craig’s List and not knowing this woman I went to her office and we talked about Vigilante Project. To my surprise we didn’t start the coaching by talking about the script itself, but instead we talked about the overall concept including who I was and what parts of me and my experiences were in the project.

After talking about our faith she challenged me by asking what my film (and later comic) said about the Lord. At that point in time, it didn’t say much. So after that meeting I took her notes and started to infuse different parts of my life into the story, making it more personal and gripping. It was then that I started to see opportunities to share some of my beliefs.

Nobody wants to be beaten over the head with a Bible when they’re reading comics or watching an action movie, but in discussion with a catholic priest, our hero Alvin is challenged in how he sees the Bible and religion. Whereas he is concerned about the spiritual consequences of his vigilante actions, the priest urges him not to see his faith as a set of rules, but as a relationship with Jesus Christ. I think that it comes off in such a way that the viewer/reader won’t feel preached to, but will (hopefully) take something away from it.

What advice would you give to other Christians who are considering making comics?

I would recommend that they stay true to themselves and their faith, but to still consider the audience. Be clear about who you are trying to reach and what you are trying to accomplish. I believe that you can make an awesome and entertaining work of art with a message, without pandering.

Are there any future projects you are working on, or would like to work on?

As I mentioned before we have Operation: Party Pooper coming up, but we’ve also started hosting events. Phil and I are members of the Orange County Star Wars Society and together with our company Yvette Avenue Productions we’re putting on an event to celebrate the release of Star Wars: Episode One in 3D! It’s really fun and we will probably do events for The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Amazing Spider-Man.

What is your take on the current state of Christian or Christian-themed comics? What, if anything, would you like to see more of in the future? What, if anything, would you like to see done differently?

I’d love to see more! I encourage it. A friend of mine at church turned me on to The Action Bible. That is amazing work. I’d like to see more Bible stories like that with dynamic and engaging art.

What is the best way for people to contact you, and to read/purchase your work?

The best way to reach us is through our web sites: Vigilante Project, Make You A Hero, and Yvette Avenue Productions. You can also connect with us on Facebook here and here.

Our books are available print-on-demand from Indy Planet. We released the preview edition a few weeks ago and you can find it there for $3.00. We also sell copies in our online store.

However, for readers, we have a digital copy free on our web site. You can access it here and enjoy!

Any last thoughts?

Glory to God who brought us together and who makes all things possible. I am nothing without Him and I can do anything with Him.

And there you have it. Until next time, stay blessed and encouraged!

About R-Squared Comicz

I'm a Christian, husband, student, & comic writer. I like comics, hip-hop, basketball, & learning, and at the end of the day, I pray that my life meant something.