Discover what lies beyond NORTH BEND: An interview with Ryan Ellsworth

Over the last couple of years, crowdfunding has become a popular method for smaller publishers and creators to fund their projects. Sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and more have allowed creative minds all over the world to connect with an audience they would struggle to find in the days before the internet. One of the projects that have been offered as sacrifice to the increasingly selective people that roam crowdfunding sites is North Bend. Based on the comic’s cover alone, it seems like readers can expect some interesting things from this project should it reach its mark.

My interest in the project was such that I decided to take a quick chat with writer Ryan Ellsworth about the project, his creative co-horts, and the future of crowdfunding.

Kristian Solberg: Could you give me a brief description of North Bend, and a little summary of where the series will go across the 10 issues?

96d78e99ea2088115ef450e59b63c54a_originalRyan Ellsworth: North Bend is about a Seattle DEA agent who is recruited by the CIA to help test an experimental mind control drug on unwitting Americans. The main arc of the series follows the protagonist, Brendan, as he agrees to join this program, his involvement in these drug tests, and the consequences of his actions. He kind of bites off more than he can chew, and things start happening that he didn’t anticipate. The whole thing snowballs and Brendan is struggling to keep his life from falling apart. You can see at the beginning of the issue, he is in prison. So things went very bad for him somehow. There will be multiple time jumps into the present with Brendan in prison, but most of the series takes place two years earlier, during his involvement with the drug project.
KS: North Bend seems like quite a bizarre concept when you first hear about it. It’s futuristic, psychedelic, militaristic and politics all mixed into one series. What inspired you to come up with the project?
RE: Heh, it does sound a bit unwieldy when you put it that way. I guess that would be the result of wanting to write something I myself would like to read. Those are all aspects of the types of stories I love. North Bend is kind of futuristic, or sci-fi, but not so much the giant robots, leather, and lasers style. It’s more of taking what we have now and pushing it a little further, and looking at what people’s reactions are. So when I say futuristic, it’s a world that’s still very recognizable, at least technologically, just 15 years from now.
Politically, I wanted to do the same thing and go out in one possible direction. North Bend is inspired by the MKUltra project, which the CIA set up during the cold war. LSD had just been synthesized and the CIA wanted to see if it could be used to control the human mind. They recruited a federal drug agent to help test it on criminals and a bunch of other people. So that’s where the premise came from, but from there North Bend goes in its own direction.
The political and militaristic aspects came with the territory of the MKUltra project. The project basically started because we were paranoid the Russians were going to figure out the mind control thing first. I liked that commie, paranoid vibe, so in the story there’s an actual war against Russia. And ironically, the US is now heading towards communism. The country is in trouble economically and politically. A strong leader has appeared and is assuaging people’s fears. But he’s basically a communist revolutionary. So the party is really gaining a foothold and the country is divided.
KS: You’ve assembled quite a creative team for your project, could you tell me a bit about how that all came together? 
54eaf19e8e259f56fe7256443a2295f9_originalRE: They are quite the team. I’m lucky to have them. I started not really knowing anyone in the industry. I had been reading a lot of articles on making comics on Comixtribe, and Steven Forbes is the editor there who I was able to hire to go over the script. Once that was good to go, I posted the project idea around a few forums looking for an artist. Eventually Robert Carey got a hold of me that way. I found Dee Cunniffe through Rob – they had worked together a few times before. After the art was done I showed it to Thomas Mauer, and he thought everything looked cool and agreed to letter it.
KS: At the time of writing this, you’ve raised about 2/3 of your goal with 14 days left to go. You’ve said in your campaign that if you exceed your goal, you’ll introduce some cool stretch goals. Any hints at what that might be? 
RE: Yeah, I’ve thrown a few ideas around. I’d like to add a few more pages to the comic. Many of the pages are 7+ panels so it’d be nice to add a little breathing room for the art in some scenes. I’ve also thought of maybe doing a special edition ‘behind the scenes’ thing. With the script and a lot of my process notes, and the art process.
KS: What made you decide to take your project to Kickstarter as opposed to going through more conventional means to get your story published?
The main reason is I don’t have the money to fund the entire issue. Going through conventional means, you still have to self-fund the creation of the comic. But also, Kickstarter seemed like a fun experience and a cool way to connect with people that liked the comic. I would love to have North Bend picked up by a publisher, but didn’t think I had a great chance at pitching with just the first 8 pages. It’s more of a slow burn story so it’s hard to give a good idea of it with 8 pages. And I’m pretty much an unknown so that doesn’t help. So I was thinking if I had a whole issue done, that would be a pretty strong pitch. But maybe I’m wrong, maybe if I pitched it, it could’ve gotten picked up. It’s been doing pretty well on Kickstarter so people seem to dig it.
3ea8aeb93b78e60fdb9b2e80fcdb54ab_originalKS: One of the side-effects of crowdfunding is that the user gets to decide what is worth making or not, however there is a danger that the sheer number of projects available to the consumer might make it harder for people to get noticed. Are you worried about the over-saturation of crowdfunding projects on sites like Kickstarter, and Indiegogo?
RE: That’s a pretty good question. At the beginning, Kickstarter kind of seemed like the wild west and anything could happen. Now, there’s so many projects, it’s definitely becoming more competitive. What’s popular isn’t always the best. A lot of quality projects get buried. Now, you already have to have a degree of popularity, some connections, or good marketing underway before you even launch a Kickstarter. It’s very hard to get noticed. So Kickstarter is becoming harder to break into. I could see it eventually becoming as hard to break into as the more traditional industry you’re trying to bypass in the first place.
Update: North Bend has exceeded its goal, and at the time of publishing for this story, approximately 1 week remains for the project. Anyone wishing to contribute to the project, can find the funding site by clicking here.

Kristian Solberg

Kris is a 26 year old viking from the land of ice and snow. Kris speaks four languages; Norwegian, English, Gibberish, and Bullshit. Kris also loves referring to himself in the third person, comic books, movies and everything that can be used to entertain this oh so simple mind from the deep, dark Norse forests.

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