INTERVIEW: Steve Urena & Misty Graves
Thank you so much for agreeing to an interview! Tell everyone about who you are and your background?
Steve Urena: Hello everybody, My name is Steve Urena. I like to call myself “The Soulja Boy of Comics.” I’m a Goofball extraordinaire by day and comic book scribe by night! I am the writer of the critically acclaimed sloth-horror comedy Slow Pokes, the beloved zombie rom-com Zombie Date Night and the co-creator of the upcoming holiday sci-fi horror comic, X-Maschina. It is live on Kickstarter right now!
Misty Graves: One dark and stormy night, my furious spirit escaped the cursed object I was being imprisoned in. Ever since then I have been possessing the body of a blonde midwestern woman in order to break into comics. So far, so good!
How did you become a creator? What’s your origin story?
Steve: I have always wanted to be involved in comics since I was a child. I wanted to be a comic book artist, but I can’t draw at all! I put this dream on hold until I found Comics Experience online. I took comic book writing classes and they taught me how to properly write a comic. It just clicked and I took the story I workshopped in the class and had it made into a comic. I got great feedback from the class and decided this was a medium I wanted to participate in. So far so good. Everybody has been so kind and I hope to get better with each project.
Misty: I was fortunate to have grown up in a house full of art supplies and books. I had two intellectual, creative parents that encouraged me in the fields of reading, creative writing, art, and music. But I also had pretty bad social skills for a lot of my youth, so was bullied in school, suffered a lot of trauma, etc. I think this developmental period is when my artistic passions fused with my identity. The world did not seem friendly to who I really was, so I hid myself in my art, for safekeeping. And although I roam more freely these days, I am still trapped in it. I still have the tendency to make art and shove it in a drawer. To keep the pieces of myself safe, rather than display them for all to see. Misty Graves, the horror comic writer, is a pen name, a tulpa, and perhaps the purest expression of myself I may ever be able to achieve.
Tell us about your projects!
Steve: X-Maschina tells the story of Santa fighting a robot uprising in the year 2045. Santa is old, tired and angry. His wife left him for the Abominable Snowman, so old Saint Nick decides he wants to hang up the hat and give his Christmas magic to a corporation. The corporation uses his magic to create an app and the app becomes sentient, creating a robot uprising. Santa must take a look at himself and learn to get through his issues in order to save Christmas…and the world.
Misty: X-Maschina is a whimsical Christmas western set in an apocalyptic sci-fi future. In our story, Santa compromises his saintly goodness to make it snow again in a climate-change-ravaged North Pole. He sells out and gives his last drops of soured Christmas magic to a tech corporation and they use it to build an app that judges people as naughty or nice. What could possibly go wrong? Well, you’ll have to find out by ordering our book!
Take us through your creative process from idea to finished story.
Steve: Misty and I met on her podcast, The Longbox of Darkness. We talked about Christmas horror and hit it off immediately. We talked for a while about collaborating and we both pitched ideas to each other. I pitched evil elves and she pitched a search engine that you type your holiday wish into and it comes true in the worst way possible. I thought we should combine the ideas and X-Maschina was born. We set deadlines for ourselves and just idea dumped before creating a story sentence, character sheets, and an outline. We used the outline as our road map and just had a blast creating the world piece by piece.
Misty: When Steve offered to collaborate, I jumped at the chance. We started brainstorming, throwing out ideas for stories. I had an idea for a fortune telling website I was calling “The Mystic in the Machine”. I find a lot of inspiration from current events. According to my notes, it was inspired by this article: https://www.technologyreview.com/2018/03/27/144290/microsofts-neo-nazi-sexbot-was-a-great-lesson-for-makers-of-ai-assistants/
Steve had this great idea for killer Elves, HELLVES. The concept of killer elves made us both laugh. From there, we were really just riffing off of each other’s ideas. Before we knew it, we arrived at the concept behind X-Maschina.
Actually writing the comic was a breeze as well. It was truly a right down the middle collaboration. I think we played to each other’s strengths really well, like a good band.
Writing-process wise, it went like this:
- Write Summary
- Write out major plot points – Beginning, rising action, climax, etc-
- Figure out if the comic has a message. What are we trying to say? Is it something worth saying?
- Develop world
- Develop characters
- Write the first draft
- Write a few more drafts
- Edit edit edit edit. Re-arrange a bunch of stuff. Edit some more. Delete chunks of things.
- Use a thesaurus to enhance the rhymes.
What is the hardest part of creating for you?
Steve: I think creating is the easy part. The hardest part of all of this is taking ideas and making sure they are all in the right place. One wrong move and the entire piece could suffer. I feel so free writing comics.
Misty: The existential angst of wanting to create but needing a full time job in order to survive. The feeling that I will never get all my ideas out. That there aren’t enough hours in the day, there are not enough lifetimes to make everything I want to make.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received from a fellow creator?
Steve: The best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten is less is more and to just let things breathe when writing comics. I don’t remember who told me these, but I am always open to advice and getting better as I keep creating.
Misty: “It’s never too late to be who you might’ve been.” – George Eliot
What one piece of criticism you’ve received that hurt, but ultimately you learned from?
Steve: I’ve been very lucky to receive constructive criticism rather than harsh criticism. I have a pretty thick skin, so I was ready for hate and people coming at me for starting my comic journey with fast, killer sloths. To my surprise, everybody has been so positive and I can’t thank them enough. I did run into someone saying I was a horrible writer on YouTube, so naturally I wrote under the comments below calling for my own death by sloth. I’m still learning and people are not going to like everything I do. I’d rather have people love or hate my work rather than not react at all.
Misty: “Get a day job” actually turned out to be a nice piece of criticism for me back in the day. Inspiration does not eat. It does not sleep. But people do. People need to eat and sleep. People need other people. I learned that I need to take care of myself first. To feed the beast of inspiration only after I have eaten.
Tell us about the Kickstarter, what rewards or tiers are you most excited about?
Steve: The X-Maschina kickstarter is live until January 30 and we have everything you could ever want from a robot featuring Santa fighting robots. We got digital copies, physical copies, Christmas cards, T-Shirts and posters designed by Vertebrae 33, we even have a Christmas song sung by Blake Raines and my absolute favorite thing, we will kill you in X-Maschina 2 if we reach our funding.
Misty: Our theme song, “We Want the Snow” by Blake Raines is so, so good. I’m going to be listening to that all year. I’m also really proud of the illustrations I did for a limited run of X-Maschina Christmas cards that come with our Signature Tier or above.
What advice would you give to someone running their first Kickstarter?
Steve: Definitely check the shipping costs from the USPS and sell things that you would want as a consumer. I like to create an experience with each kickstarter. Like a party I want everyone to attend.
- Listen to Steve. Look at Steve’s Kickstarters. Do what Steve does.
- A marketing campaign is a ton of work for one person. If possible, cultivate a network of talented people that you can reach out to for things like theme songs and original artwork.
- Think about every detail, but don’t get bogged down with the details.
- Make a ton of spreadsheets, but don’t adhere to them too strictly.
- The numbers won’t make a lot of sense. Go for it anyway.
- Put some thought into the overall aesthetic of your campaign. The color palette. The sounds. The smells.
- Show your project respect by approaching it as professionally as you can. If it looks like you’re putting care and thought and effort into your campaign, people will know that you did the same for your comic.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out and bother people. Your true friends and fans will be happy for you and support you.
- Have a good time!!
What about those who have an idea for a comic but haven’t acted on it yet? What’s one piece of actionable advice you would give them to get started?
Steve: You can do it too. If I can write a story about fast killer sloths or a grandma fighting zombies with a chancleta, then you can put out your project. I recommend going through Comics Experience or another comic school and starting there. If you keep deadlines for yourself and create realistic goals, then there is no stopping you. Use your resources and believe in yourself!
Misty: Just think about how you only have a short time on this earth to do it. None of us knows when our time is up. Especially these days. Best get writing.
How can people find the Kickstarter and support this project?
Here you go! http://kck.st/3xP7NpV click the link to back. Every little bit helps so please spread the word.