Ink and Drink Comics started as a sketch meet up group in 2008 for a bunch of local comic book creators and artists that worked at the magazine/website Playback:STL. They would get together once a month on a Thursday to sketch, talk comics, and collaborate. Carlos Gabriel Ruiz pitched the idea of putting together an anthology book for the first Project Comic-Con, but the group needed a theme to unite it. Since the con was going to be shortly before Halloween, they decided on making it a horror book, and six months later their first genre anthology, Spirits of St. Louis, made its debut in October 2010. They ended up selling out of their first print run, which blew their minds. The Ink and Drink crew enjoyed it so much that they decided to do it again, and their second book, the crime anthology Shots in the Dark, made its debut at C2E2 in 2011. The rest is drunk history as the collaborative is still meeting once a month today and cranking out graphic novel anthologies. The GR1ND sat down with creative director, Carlos Gabriel Ruiz, editor in chief Jason Green and deputy editor Steve Higgins to chat about comics, their newest releases and where you can find Ink and Drink comics.
What’s up with the new release Spirits of St. Louis II – Hair of the Dog?
Carlos Gabriel Ruiz-Spirits of St. Louis II – Hair of the Dog, our newest book, just made its debut on April 20th. Having cycled through all of the genres we could think of, Spirits II is the first time returning back to a genre we’ve covered before. It’s a great mishmash of stories in the fine Ink and Drink tradition, and the book features a few ghost stories, some demon hauntings, a coven of vampires, monsters, zombies, and a few psychological horror stories. We’ve had a month-long slate of release parties, signings, and events to help celebrate the release and it seems like the party train will soon be coming to a stop. But the good thing is that Spirits II is now available in finer comic book shops around the St. Louis area and also online at the Ink and Drink Comics Store.
Who is featured in the book?
Carlos– The book features 16 tales of horror to delight and scare our viewers. The regular edition features a cover by Adam Davenport and a back cover by Kyle Morton. The Wizard World St. Louis edition featured a cover by Bryan Ward and a back cover by Jim Mosley. It has an introduction by Bryan A. Hollerbach. There’s a long list of contributors to the book.
What roles do you each play at Ink and Drink?
Jason Green- My upfront role as an editor is whatever people want it to be. Some contributors work in a vacuum and just turn in their submission when it’s done, while others like feedback along the way and I’m always game to read advance scripts and offer advice. I also tend to take a pretty active role at pestering people to contribute and coax work out of them as the deadline approaches. On the tail end, it’s reviewing and copyediting the submissions to hunt out grammar mistakes and misspelled words and gathering together the ancillary stuff like copyright information and contributor biographies. And in addition to writing my own stories, I’ll also frequently pitch in on lettering other people’s stories to help get them across the finish line.
Steve Higgins- I’m pretty much on the same page as Jason, looking over people’s scripts beforehand to give them pointers on how to proceed and checking out the finished art afterward to proofread for errors. I also tend to do a lot of the promotional work for our books. Of the three of us I think I’m probably the most active with our social media accounts: Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. I wrangle people together at the meetings themselves and tend to run the “business” portion of those meetings. I coordinate a lot of the events we attend, like the signings we’ve recently done and our convention appearances, to figure out who in our extensive crew might be available to participate. And of course I write my own contributions to each anthology we do. I’m actually one of a handful of people who has contributed to every book we’ve done (sometimes multiple pieces), which is something the other editors can’t say and that I like to rub in as frequently as possible.
Carlos- I’m responsible for putting the book together from a creative and design perspective. I work with the artists who create the covers and title page illustrations, pitching them ideas on what we’re looking for and vetting their ideas with the rest of the group. From there, I’m responsible for producing the book, from creating the logos, to designing the layout of the book, to getting all of the story files production ready for our printer. The three of us basically pick the theme for each book and then curate it, reviewing all of the submissions, editing the work, and giving any feedback or notes for each submission. We hold the work to a pretty high standard. Unfortunately, that means from time to time we have to reject some contributions, but that is usually a pretty rare occurrence.
How was Wizard World St. Louis?
Carlos– Wizard World St. Louis was great this year! We had our best con ever, partially because we had a limited edition Wizard World exclusive of our new book Spirits of St. Louis II – Hair of the Dog that featured a St. Louis-centric front cover and back cover. Plus, we now have 13 books available and have developed a pretty strong local following. It’s great to get repeat customers who keep coming back for the newest books because we couldn’t do it without their support. We’re excited to continue putting out a new book every six months.
What other books does Ink and Drink have out?
Carlos- When we started, we had the idea of doing a book for every genre, in the hopes of having something for every reader. Six years later we now have a book for every genre, plus a book that we put together for St. Louis’ 250th anniversary and a collection of the first three mini-comics we put out for Free Comic Book Day. Also, each book has a drinking pun as a title.
What is the St Louis comic scene like?
Carlos– Thriving! There is a tremendous amount of talent coming out of St. Louis these days. We’re lucky to live in such a great comics town, with a rich history of artists and writers and a flourishing community of newcomers. Plus, everyone is very supportive of one another. It also helps that there are a ton of great shops in and around St. Louis and lot of public support for comics (as seen by the Comics University put on by the St. Louis Public Library and their recent forays into hosting a comic convention). It’s funny because there was always a good indie comics scene in St. Louis, but we had a hard time finding it until we started Ink and Drink Comics in 2009/2010. Suddenly we went to our first local con and discovered that there were a few other collectives putting out books and meeting together to collaborate. It was eye-opening to see so many people coming together to make comics.
What do you have in the works now?
Carlos– We had our 5th Free Comic Book Day mini-comic that came out on May 7th for FCBD 2016 called On the House – 5th Round: Knights in White Satin. Our next anthology is a book called Hungover – Stories from the Bottom of the Barrel. It is a slight departure from most of our books in that it is not a genre anthology but instead serves as a catch-all for all genres. In each of our previous books, we’ve had people who had a story they wanted to contribute but were unable to because either time ran out or they had prior commitments. This book is their chance to give life to that story. We have a feeling that it may be our largest book yet, in terms of pages, and we hope that it serves as a great sampler to all of the fine genre work that we do. That book is set to debut at Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD, in September.
As an indie comics publishers what have you learned?
Carlos– Deadlines matter. Each of our books is based around a convention release, so it is important that we hit our deadlines in order to deliver the books to the printer in enough time to make the conventions. The simple truth is that if you put out product on a regular basis, people will keep coming back for it because they come to expect a new release on a regular basis. So many indies shoot themselves in the foot by publishing infrequently and sporadically. We’re really proud to have kept up the two-books-a-year pace for over five years now, plus the Free Comic Book Day minicomics.
Stories matters. While our anthologies are centered around genre, they are built up around stories that offer a wide range in art styles, tone, and subject matter. We don’t require slavish devotion to a format; we just require they be good stories well told. If a story doesn’t go anywhere interesting or if the artwork can’t tell a story, we wouldn’t include it in our anthology. We set a pretty high bar for our books, and if the submissions don’t meet that bar, they’ll be left on the cutting room floor.
Quality matters. It’s becoming much easier to self-publish, which means that there are a lot of comic books being made out there and a lot of good books being put out. If you factor in the somewhat declining market, the competition for someone’s hard-earned dollar is getting tougher and tougher each day. People are willing to support indie comics if they feel they’re getting their money’s worth. It’s important for us to put out a great looking book that is nicely designed, has good production value, and contains great content. We’ve all been to a convention and seen someone’s crudely drawn 10 page mini-comic that they’re selling for $5, and for us, that seems like a pretty tough sale. While someone may pick it up, it’s a hard expense to justify when you can get a full-color 24 page comic for $3.99 and 100+ page full-color Ink and Drink book for $10.
Variety matters. Selling a book to someone who has never heard of you can be pretty tough, especially if you have only one or two of something. The great thing about anthologies is the variety of the art styles and the stories that are contained within each book. We like to say that we have something for everyone, which is especially true now that we have over 13 books in print that cover every genre, including two books that are specifically kid-friendly.
What will the rest of 2016 hold for Ink and Drink?
More cons, more events, more books, and more beer! We have a pretty full slate of future conventions that we’re attending, including Planet Comic Con 2016 in Kansas City, Central Con at the St. Louis Library, Small Press Expo (SPX) 2016 in Maryland, and many, many more. We’ll continue meeting on the 3rd Tuesday of every month and we’ll keep making new books every six months. We may also have a few beers for good measure.
To check out Ink and Drink comics go here.