One of the nice things about the internet and social media culture we live in today (and by that I mean, one of the very few good things about it), is occasionally you get to encounter interesting people doing interesting things. Lela Gwenn is one such person. She’s personable, smart, determined, and talented. Lela is an aspiring comic book writer who decided to take her dream of writing by the proverbial horns.
In this case, she ran a Kickstarter for the start of a new comic world she hoped would bring notice from a publisher. The result was Born Dark Issue #0, a strange, deep tale about a world where modern day America mixes with a dark world of magic and evil goblins. The project had a fairly modest goal of $5500 to pay for the art and other services mostly and managed to hit $6000.
We cornered Lela in one of the dark recesses of the internet to ask her about the project and help unravel the amazing enigma that is she.
It seemed a little odd to start with an issue #0, and even more so that the issue focused on the non-human characters. This oddity was intentional and all part of Lela’s big plan. “Kickstarter was much harder than I ever imagined. We Kickstarted issue 0 hoping we’d be able to sell (issues) 1-6 to a publisher,” she told me. “[At the time] I didn’t see another way. Everyone says you have to finish something before the pubs will look at you.
“I really want to bring Born Dark to life,” she continued. “And it seemed like the way to go at the time. Build interest, give early fans a part of the story that no one else will get while still maintaining the series so a publisher gets a full run if they pick it up. Issue 0 focuses on the goblins. If I get a chance to publish (the rest), they are much more human centered. Most of Born Dark happens in ‘our world’. Issue 0 plays with format by showing you the ‘bad guys’ first, which is unusual. Generally, the first person you see is the hero! Not always, but most of the time.”
Anytime someone has a strong desire to birth an idea into the world—especially one as over-crowded and competitive as comic books—I can’t help but wonder why? Why subject yourself to that level of risk and what is it that you’re bringing to the table? Is there some gap in all those choices that needs to be filled for the writer or artist?
“I think the idea of ‘filling gaps in comics’ is a red herring! Truth is, there are thousands of comics published every week through houses, indie, digital. If you can’t find the genre you’re looking for, you’re not trying. Writing is making something new. It’s making something only you can make.
“I’m pro diversity and I’m well known as a Social Justice Warrior amongst those that would see the house of Gwenn burn. But it’s not about filling gaps or checking off tick marks. It’s about making stories less boring by adding more texture and nuance.
“As far as the ‘less boring’ comment goes: a white guy’s family member gets kidnapped and he has to rescue/get bloody revenge. How many movies, books, videogames have this plot? So many. So so many. And I love a lot of them. But adding just a little twist could make me stop labeling them Commando : The Tookening 6. I think a great way to transform these ‘classic plots’ is to give them more depth by introducing different viewpoints. DIVERSITY!”
There have been no bites on Born Dark, but it did lead to an impressive opportunity with Boom! Studios to write a piece for the anthology-themed Hellraiser Bestiary #4. The result was “Study”, a tale that takes the idea of a serial stalker and twists it in a beautiful S&M-laced manner. “For Hellraiser,” she said. I met an assistant editor at Boom and he offered me a chance to pitch. I guess my idea was a good one.”
As for other things, “I’m writing another comic series now. Four issues with opportunity to be more. The idea is to pitch it. Just gotta get art together. It takes a while to hear back. So I’m being patient.”
Like most writers, Lela has been writing for almost as long as she remember—in this case, since about the age of seven. “My first story was about an owl that wanted to cross the road but it was scared. I had a couple stories in Grayhaven anthologies. My stories are tailor made for comics. Most of my prose is smut.”
By “smut”, she means erotica, including a self-published novella and a story in a charity anthology called Felt Tips, but these are older fascinations for her. “I’ve written erotica & done fetish modeling stuff, but all my energy is in comics,” she explains. “It really is where my heart lies.”
That love of writing comics was spurred on early in life with a deep love of reading them. “Saga is transformational,” she told me. “Rat Queens is brilliant I actually really like all of Kurt [is Wiebe’s] work. X-Men is what I cut my teeth on. I just remember the idea that weird kids got to be great.
“I loved it. I hardly ever got to read whole story arcs because the spinner rack wasn’t the best at being regularly stocked, but I didn’t care. My first comics were illicitly obtained horror comics when I was like six! But, my influences come from all over the place; the Dark Tower series by Stephen King. Nine Princes of Amber Series by Roger Zelazny , the ones before he died, cartoons like Animaniacs and Batman : The Animated Series. I read and imbibe of entertainment from all over the spectrum and want to bring all the pieces in to make a more interesting whole.”
So, I wonder to her, what makes a story yours? What gives it that special Lela quality?
“’Lelae-sque’ work is always changing, but certain themes like to pop up over and over: redemption; the tenuousness of sanity; people who don’t Like people being forced to work to work together… Characters whose stories don’t get told. I like telling those.“
Lela is, in the right circles, reasonably well-known on Twitter (where I met her) and personable with a surprisingly amount of other writers. Curious about this I asked her if Twitter helped her at all with making writing connections.
“I just try to be myself on Twitter,” she explained. “Luckily, there are so many awesome people there that are super amazing and comics people with advice and support. But getting in is getting in.”
And she’s determined to get in, slowly but surely with a firm conviction that doing the work and taking the time to cultivate relations will lead to rewards down the line. So far, the results have been noteworthy, and there are plenty of supporters who truly hope to see more of her work escape out into the wild. In the meantime, she recently discovered another outlet to share her love of comics on womenwriteaboutcomics.com, a site devoted to the furious love of the comic book medium by, not surprisingly, women. It’s a terrific site for any comic lover, so do check it out.
You can check out the original Kickstarter page at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lelagwenn/born-dark-issue-0
Or check out https://web.archive.org/web/20150312163755/http://borndarkcomic.squarespace.com:80/
For her Hellraiser story, check https://web.archive.org/web/20160428055007/http://www.boom-studios.com/hellraiser-bestiary-04-cover-a.html
Better yet, check her out on Twitter at @LGwenn