Profile Feature – Nima Afshar
BREAK: RUN Profile Feature
An interview with Nima Afshar
Greg: So, thank you for doing this interview. How’d you get into creating comics?
Nima: “I appreciate the opportunity to talk a little about this project! I’ve always drawn, like most kids, but I was one of the few that continued drawing throughout life. One of my best friends in high school, Tony, was the one responsible for getting me into comics, first with Batman. But I fell in love when he told me about Wolverine. I found issues 11 and 12 of the first ongoing Wolverine solo series written by pulp legend Peter David, with pencils by the brilliant John Buscema and inks by the inimitable Bill Sienkiewicz. I mean come on, who wouldn’t fall in love with comics right there?”
“I studied graphic design, with thoughts of becoming an illustrator or comic artist – that was the dream, but I never thought I was good enough. Years later, I became a pretty good DJ, playing mostly electronic, electro, and hip hop but then I came to a crossroads. I still loved comics and especially anime. I’m totally obsessed with Akira, Macross, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. That led me back to comics, manga, and I had to make a choice. I wasn’t getting any younger. And after years of reflection and personal growth, I decided to go back and give it a go. I was going to make comics.”
Greg: Why did you choose a cyberpunk theme for your story BREAK: RUN?
Nima: “I started writing science fiction in a distant world, and that’s just what came out. A near future, grounded version of sci-fi. I don’t think I had even read William Gibson’s Neuromancer yet, and I definitely hadn’t read Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson – a friend read my work in our writing group, and suggested I read Stephenson. This was a group mentored and taught by Australian SF/Dark Fantasy/Horror Grandmaster Terry Dowling, we are actually good friends now. Terry pointed me to some texts which he said would help, and they did. Sophisticated and beautiful writing by people like Ian McDonald, in particular, his Cyberabad Days, and that really resonated. McDonald was writing what I wanted to create. Stories about brown kids.”
“I’m Iranian myself so I wanted something for me and kids like me. Why do all our heroes have to be anglo-caucasian, blonde-haired, blue-eyed men named Chris? Obviously, they don’t. The first short story in Cyberabad, “Sanjeev and Robotwallah” is about these young Indian Mechwarrior punks – it’s awesome stuff, a sophisticated, multicultural work, something character-based that is more aware of geopolitics rather than purely escapist writing. Sort of like Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. I cannot help but be inspired by such works. I mean, Branislav ‘Branko’ Nourbakhsh the main character in my story, his surname is named after my cousin. He’s a Sufi musician, an incredible multi-instrumentalist who has been exiled from his own country. And he’s one of the nicest people you could hope to meet, so I named my character after him. After all, you can’t be what you can’t see. And maybe other Iranian kids will read that and not feel bad about where they came from. Maybe they could even stop feeling ashamed about their origins, like so many confused immigrant kids do. But because it’s so far in the future, Branko has African and European heritage too; speculation leads me to believe that in the very distant future there will be much more cross-pollination of human races.”
“And I haven’t even mentioned Blade Runner yet – or Alien which I think have left such an indelible mark. I don’t think I can ever leave their sphere of influence.”
Greg: How old were you when you first became interested in comics?
Nima: “I started young with Garfield strips, but became completely obsessed with comics as a teenager. The first time I started going to proper comic shops, we have a few of those in Sydney, Australia, where I was lucky enough to grow up. The first time I walked into a comic shop, the smell of old comics, the inks… I mean, it was a religious experience for me. I think I was fourteen when I became really hardcore.”
Greg: How old were you when you started creating comics?
Nima: “My friend Tony and I collaborated way back in high school! He penciled a kind of ninja superhero scaling a wall, and I did the worst inking job. I think I used ballpoint pens. Hey, we all have to start somewhere, right? We were always doing little flipbook animations in the corners of our notebooks, rather than paying attention. The only class we really liked was Art class and English. Kind of perfect for a cartoonist really. I mean I loved history too, especially ancient history and anything to do with mythology. We were always drawing aliens, as in H.R. Giger’s Alien, though Tony was much better than me, but we were into all kinds of nerd stuff, D&D, Warhammer 40K, I was a huge Middle Earth Roleplaying fanatic.”
Greg: I read the first 24 pages in the digital format. I noticed little hints of influence from Star Wars to even Batman. Was that intentional?
Nima: “Batman – Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller… that book is huge for me. I wasn’t thinking of it consciously but I was certainly looking at the Dark Knight Artist Edition when I was drawing pages and was doing artist studies referencing the book. Come to think of it, the format of DKR is similar as BREAK: RUN is also fifty-odd pages and square-bound.”
“I really love Star Wars too. I mean I did make a Star Wars / Aliens / Strontium Dog fan comic, so that influence is in my DNA. I particularly like the original trilogy, and I really, really love the Daniel Warren Johnson manga style fan comics. His grungy action-packed reimaginings are really inspiring. For me, he is the modern-day Frank Miller. I think DWJ is a cartoonist’s cartoonist. He’s doing it all, writing, penciling, inking. His stuff is so kinetic and beautiful. But I’m getting sidetracked – Star Wars, yes, Star Wars – the original grimey seventies and eighties New Hope/Empire Strikes Back versions with weathering and paint chipped vehicles, weird and wonderful cities filled with colorful characters. Those ancient futures are really interesting to me.”
“This story is kind of like my version of an ancient future. This distant colony has already had repeated war, and even nuclear war. There are ruined buildings (coming up in the second half of the comic) and a real history. I don’t’ explain it all, I just try to draw it, the readers fill in the gaps themselves. I feel this is the best way to create, make the world, but sketch it out, imply things, and let the reader’s imagination start firing.”
Greg: What would you say is your least favorite step of creating a comic if you had to pick one?
Nima: “I’m not great with social media and marketing, but I’m trying to learn. It’s a huge part of the job of making comics. No one will buy or be interested in the work if they don’t know about it. It’s like a game, and I’m trying to figure it out and fall in love with it. It’s such a delicate balance, it’s like you want to tell everyone, but you don’t want to be overbearing or too salesman-like.”
Greg: How about your favorite step of the whole process?
Nima: “Finishing the book and putting it out there. It’s really great getting the project into people’s hands. Even if, at this point, it’s just a 24 page PDF preview before I can release the final book. That’s a full-length comic people can get for free just by going to threefoldcomics.com I think that is pretty cool. Actually, when you sign up to my mailing list you get three free comics, and I like getting free comics from people whose stuff I like.”
Greg: Do you have a plan on continuing BREAK for a span of years or are you looking to move on to something else soon?
Nima: “I have already made the first 13 pages of the next series, BREAK: BEAT that follows on from this story, people can read that free from my site too. I plan on making quite a few stories in this world. BEAT will feature mechwarriors that clone themselves and fight to the death, it’s based in the city and is a coming of age story. The main character from RUN, Branko, will appear in that comic too.”
Greg: I saw you ran a successful campaign that shot over your goal which some can’t do. Congratulations on that first off and secondly, how long did you prep and promote your campaign to succeed so well?
Nima: “Thank you very much! Firstly, I think twelve years of drawing and writing really helped – a lot of trial and error and failure. A lot of failures, but trying to make comics and just persisting helps, I think the work eventually just gets better over time. So if the project is good, people will be attracted to the work. For instance, I was just trying to convince Brendan McCarthy to start a Patreon over Twitter, he saw threefoldcomics.com and looked at my site, he said. “This is great,” I said, Brendan, can I use that as a quote. He said, “I’ll do you one better” and gave me the pull quote that was the difference-maker; “A perfect blend of manga, sci-fi, Mad Max and an extra something that makes Nima a new creator to watch.” No one really knows me, besides a handful of Aussie fans and creators. Tyler James teaches this in Comixlaunch, which was my secret weapon, in the course he teaches that it’s really important for people to have social proof. Not many know me, but a lot of people know and respect Mad Max: Fury Road, and Brendan was the co-writer, storyboard, and concept artist on that film. His fingerprints are all over it, so if Brendan says, hey everyone, check this person out, people are more likely to give you a chance. “
“I signed up to https://comixlaunch.com/ and did all the training, that was a huge help for me. But it was really the viral campaigns that helped me. Listen to episodes 186 and 187 of the Comixlaunch podcast, they’re free and all the intel is there. But the Comixlaunch course also teaches you how to use Facebook/Instagram ads, and I really focussed on building up my email list to have backers there on day 1 so that helped a lot! I had about 35 people on my email list before the course. I built my list to about 1000 with the help of the viral campaign and now I have 2400 on my email list and counting. It’s absolutely crucial. And the viral campaign I ran was incidentally for all six volumes of the Akira manga, the Akira 4K & Blu Ray disc, and some hard-to-find but super cool Akira PVC figures. So that was immensely helpful, aligning myself with something that was and is a huge influence on the project. I mean, I even decided to do Akira fan art as stretch goals, and all the Kickstarter backers will get a Kaneda/Akira risograph art print; that was the final unlocked stretch reward. I think having cool stretch and milestone goals really help.”
Greg: Glow in the dark is definitely different and very interesting! It does make me want to actually get the physical copy so I can actually read the whole story and use that effect. What made you want to do a glow-in-the-dark comic in the first place?
Nima: “That’s great to hear! You can actually still pre-order the book if you go to https://threefoldcomics.com/break to get the physical version which I’m excited about. I had some test prints done, if people check out the Kickstarter they can see the animated gif, which is the actual cover! When you use a UV-A Blacklight it looks even better! There is a gif of that too, it really charges up the night luminous inks. When I first tested it with the UV-A Blacklight I gasped. My wife shouted from the other room, ‘What’s wrong?’ – I said come look at this, and she was impressed too (she is very hard to impress!). The glow in the dark really shines after a blacklight is used.”
“And what made me want to do a full-length glow-in-the-dark comic? It’s adding a large amount of work to the comic, which is probably why no one has done it before. I remember another school friend who used to read DC Comics ‘The Spectre’ back in the nineties, they had very cool glow-in-the-dark covers. But when I asked him if they had those glowing inks throughout he said no, I was so disappointed! I think that stayed in the back of my mind all those years. So when it came time to make my Kickstarter debut, I thought of this. I was very much inspired by Jim Rugg’s Fluorescent Blacklight Outlaw Comic Book “OCTOBRIANA 1976”. I mean, how cool is his book? The first-ever full-length blacklight comic.”
“So I was inspired to do the world’s first glow-in-the-dark comic, but I thought, that wasn’t enough. I had a hook, but I needed more depth. And I thought about the themes and the story I was trying to tell. I was inspired by my experiences as well, having been a serious meditator for years now, one becomes sensitized to the other world, the unseen world. But how does one represent this unseen world? Glow-in-the-dark inks are one way to do it.”
Greg: Do you have a whole universe you’re building or are you going with some sort of flow with your storytelling?
Nima: “I do have a major story arc planned out – a trilogy of interconnected stories. This first story is actually just a prequel one-shot. I wanted to give people an introduction to the world and one of my favorite characters, to give them something self-contained. Branko is an aspirational character for me, I hope he’ll inspire people, the same way people find Hellboy inspiring. He’s just a good person.”
Greg: Thank you for reaching out for this interview. One last question, Do you have a favorite Star Wars movie?
Nima: “Thanks so much for the great questions, Greg. I really love Empire Strikes Back. That’s my favorite classic Star Wars film – it’s timeless, and I love the first half of Jedi too. Can we just say Empire and Return of the Jedi, minus the Ewoks scene? If you edit those together you’d have a pretty good Star Wars film.”
For more information, and where to find Nima Afshar