Interview: Fabian Rangel, Jr. on DOC UNKNOWN, SPACE RIDERS and How to Not Suck at Kickstarter

At Emerald City Comic-Con this weekend, writer Fabian Rangel, Jr. will be selling at least two t-shirts celebrating the magical magic-ness that is coffee.

Appropriate. Because the man deserves an Eisner in butt-busting.

Rangel has been self-publishing under his Believe in Comics imprint since 2010, and has contributed one-shots and anthologies at small presses such as 215 Ink (including the white-knuckled, blood-spattered literally-hell-on-wheels fisticuffs funtime Engines of Doom with artist Austin Rogers). Three years later, he debuted fan favourite Doc Unknown, a delightfully retro superhero pulling double-time as Gate City’s first responder to crime and paranormal nastiness alike. With stories published as single issues and backup stories in Frank Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham’s Image series Five Ghosts, the eponymous good doc and his reptilian nemesis Boss Snake deploy their fatal flying fists of fury in a setting that strikes the right balance between moody and atmospheric to pulpy joy that lovingly homages its influences.

Volume 3 of Doc Unknown: The War for Gate City – the final installment in the series – launched on Kickstarter earlier this month, and received full funding in about two weeks. It runs until April 1, with the additional funds raised going toward printing and shipping costs.

Later this year, Rangel will see the release of Space Riders with artist Alex Ziritt and letterer Ryan Ferrier (preview the first eight pages here). And a story in Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard, Vol. 3, #4 with artist Aaron Conley. And projects in the works with Dark Horse Presents.

And that’s just what he’s been willing to share with us so far…




Dork Shelf: First off – congratulations on successfully completing your fourth Kickstarter campaign! We’re looking forward to reading volume 3, but a little sad to see Doc Unknown go! Are there any more Gate City stories you’d like to tell, even if not about Doc Unknown or Boss Snake? What supernatural entities would you and Ryan Cody like to play with in that setting that you haven’t already? 


Fabian Rangel, Jr.: Thanks! I’m also pretty bummed that Doc is coming to an end. I’ve written more pages of Doc Unknown than anything else. I have thought of one or two short Doc Unknown-related tales (like 50 pages worth), but I really doubt we’ll ever do it. And no, with everything that happens in Volume 3, I’m confident we’ve done everything we set out to do and more, so there really isn’t anything left that we didn’t throw in. This last volume is insane.


DS: What made you decide to finally try for Kickstarter after largely self-publishing for so many years? What strategies did you find worked best for promoting the projects and scoring donations, and what did you learn as you went from book to book? 


FR: I had exhausted pretty much every other avenue I could think of to get money for making comics. I took out a loan; I got a second job; I maxed out two credit cards; I sold old comics. I figured I had built up enough of an audience after three years of self-publishing to run a successful Kickstarter campaign, and luckily I was right. I just figured I had showed people I could make my comics happen on my own, so they could back our project and rest assured I would get them done if we had their help.

Really, the best strategy for getting backers was our track record, plus social media. I try to have them coincide with cons, too, so I can spread the word. Having friends that’ll give you a shout-out also helps. The biggest lesson I’ve learned from doing these is to make sure to charge enough for shipping!


DS: What would you like for curious creators to know about the crowdfunding process? Who would benefit the most from this option, and who might want to pursue something else? 


FR: To set their goals at a reasonable amount. If you’re a nobody, don’t ask for $10K right out of the gate. And that even though it may seem like ‘easy money during the funding period, it’s a different story once the books and rewards come in. You better be ready to roll up your sleeves and put in the hours (and hours) to get those books signed, packaged and mailed off. Fulfilment is where shit gets real. The people who will get the most from Kickstarter are people with quality products and a strong work ethic. People who’ve never made a comic before should probably try finding other ways of getting money for a couple of years, earn a solid reputation, learn what it takes to make comics, THEN go to Kickstarter.


DS: Black Mask is the first major publisher you’ve worked with, and now you’ve got projects with both BOOM! and Dark Horse in the works. How has the transition from self-publishing been for you as a professional? Are you interested in someday returning to the DIY or crowdfunding approach now that you’ve moved to a different model?


FR: Working with publishers is definitely a welcome change! Mostly because it means more eyes on my work. It definitely tests how much patience I can have because when you self publish, YOU decide when books come out; of course, with publishers you have to wait for when THEY decide the book comes out. For now, I’m very much looking forward to taking a break from self-publishing (with the exception of Doc Volume 3, of course). If I have another project later this year or next year that can’t find a home at a publisher and I absolutely have to get it out of my system, I’ll consider Kickstarter for sure, but I’m totally hoping all of my ideas find homes at indie publishers.


DS: The Space Riders preview has been praised for its lovingly-rendered “Jack Kirby with a dash of Hajime Sorayama” aesthetic. Anyone else joining in the pastiche that we should be excited about? And, aside from the fact that the story takes place in space and also duh, why the decision to hail to the King?


FR: Space Riders is actually a revenge western. I was on a huge Kirby kick when Alexis [Ziritt] approached me to write the book, so a lot of it was informed by everything I was reading, and just trying to make the book as imaginative and powerful as possible.


DS: In addition to comics, you’ve also got a nice little track record as a musician! How has this background impacted your writing, if at all? Is your creative process different based on medium, and if so, how?


FR: I played in bands for 10 years (all through my 20’s) and the biggest take-away from those days is the D.I.Y. ethic. As far as my comic writing, not really. I would write really personal songs about things I was going through, feelings I was dealing with, etc, while my comics work is mostly “I want to see this artist draw really cool monsters.”


DS: So if Doc Unknown is an homage to Mignola… and Space Riders is Kirby… whom do you plan to evoke in your Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard story with Aaron Conley?


FR: Ha! Doc Unknown is very Mignola-influenced, yes, but there’s also A LOT of Batman: The Animated Series in there, as well as Planetary. The MG story is also Mignola-influenced actually!


DS: Will you and Cody ever get around to making and selling plushies of the supercrazyadorable baby Boss Snake? …Can we at least get a Revenge Rooster?


FR: That question made me laugh a lot because when I saw Ryan’s rendition of baby Boss Snake, I laughed at that, too. As far as making plushies of him or Revenge Rooster, that’s a definite, “No.” Making specialized merch like that costs money, usually more money than you can make back. So yeah, no. Sorry!


DS: Can’t blame us for asking!


Fund the Doc Unknown, Volume 3: The War for Gate City Kickstarter campaign here. Pick up Space Riders at your favorite local comic book store on Wednesday, April 1. And make sure to drop some coffee off at his table at Emerald City Comic Con this weekend, table A-15. We told you he was a busy guy.