Discovering individuals dedicated to any particular thing in the modern fast paced materialistic boarders of the United States is so rare I find it surprising. How does someone spend most of their time and energy focused on one thing, thus sacrificing time otherwise used to enjoy all the desired leisure activities: video games, television, viewing professional sports or going out to clubs? Austin Oseke, 28, is a publisher, comic book artist and to sum it up, describes himself as an entrepreneur. He revels in those challenging opportunities that a small business owner encounters. It is a constant state of adjustment with an overflowing closet full of hats. Examples of these roles range from dealing with all the elements of publishing, to artist, writer, creator, business development, marketing, and more. After deciding on, followed by actual achievement of specific goals, a foundation to continued success is laid. Ones confidence than builds, allowing a steadily broader vision to grow.
Moments Of Truth ~ What would describe your creative activities, either on your own, or as part of your business?
Austin Oseke ~ I use eigoMANGA as my vehicle for my creative energies. If I just wanted to create a comic book store, I would have done that. My desire was to develop a business in the entertainment segment. I love music, television, doing concerts, events, and try to bring these creative aspects slash initiatives into my business. I see my company as my opportunity to project that, and it’s very effective for me to do it that way.
MOT ~ Do you think the medium that you’ve used has changed over time, and do you expect it to continue too? Or go in any particular direction in the future? I know you used to have a lot more time to draw. . .
AO ~ If we’re talking about comics, the medium has changed definitely. It’s all about the Internet now. What’s funny about that is that I received recognition through Wizard magazine because of the Internet. I told them “we are in the digital age, and it’s a really great tool to publish your comics, get them out there, and tell your story without going through the conventional red-tape to get your comic out there.” It’s a great tool, I mean, to a certain extent, you can now even create comics on the Internet. It’s great, I like it a lot.
When it comes down to it, there is no replacement to just sitting down with a pencil or pen and just drawing. There’s no replacement for that. That’s where your energy, your passions just flow. Eventually, sure, when you want to touch it up and refine it for print you’d touch it up after scanning it into the computer. It all starts with just pen and paper, drawing and jotting down your ideas. That’s the source, the foundation where it all begins.
MOT ~ Is their a particular reason why you use this segment of the medium, or just drawing in general to express yourself creatively?
AO ~ It’s kind of difficult to say. Basically, it might be because comics are the easiest to get started. If you want to project an idea, publish a book, write something out, it’s easier then creating a movie or producing a music CD. It’s just you, drawing, writing, refining it and publishing it into a book. Of all the mediums, comics were easiest for me, and for a lot of people to just make something and get it out there. Later you can branch it out into things like film and video. You can see in the current movie industry that they’ve been tapping into a lot of the comic book stories. A lot of the great source materials are based off of comics. It’s just fairly simple to circulate, people tend to get the idea right away or the essence of it and if they like it, they’ll get into more advanced mediums.
MOT ~ Where did you grow up?
AO ~ I grew up in Houston, Texas. My nationality is Nigerian, that’s where my parents are from.
MOT ~ Do you think there are elements in your Nigerian roots or the Texas / Houston community that influence your ideas, methods, your creative energies?
AO ~ Ever since I was little I liked drawing. I remember when I was either five or seven, I drew Voltron, that giant robot. I don’t remember much about how, but I remember drawing that. It was funny that at my school, they thought I had something, and my teachers always encouraged me to keep at it; really develop my skill as an artist. My parents are something else all together. My father is a professor at a university and my mother is a nurse but used to be a principal. Essentially academia dominated at my family’s house. Our culture is like academics and stuff, so they really frowned upon my work. I had lots of battles with them early on. My mother thought I would never make any money drawing, that I was just wasting time.
This had a lingering effect on me. So say for example, I used to have this large comic book collection when I was 14. My father took all of them and tried to throw them away. At that age I was really impressionable. People like Jim Lee I looked up to, collected his work; it wasn’t just comic books to me but a collection of art. That was very upsetting to me because that’s what I was trying to do. To this day with all the negativity I received from my folks I still am a little bitter. Well, maybe not bitter, but still have this underlying voice in the back of my mind telling me comics are a kids thing.
Even though I’m a publisher of comics – and I love that – it’s tough to appreciate people properly sometimes. All around me are people who have spent their life working in this segment and will probably die doing animation, it’s their life. At this point, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, look forward to doing more, but because of the way I grew I just feel I don’t appreciate it as much as I should. Even after my parents have seen my work, my comics, see that I have this company, it’s taken them a long time to accept it and be proud of it. When you are young it molds who you are.
MOT ~ Have you had any influence in the positive spectrum from mentors, who’ve turned you on to better navigate this medium? You may have mentioned Jim Lee as a kind of pseudo-mentor.
AO ~ I had a lot of mentors growing up. As a publisher, the person who inspired me the most, his name is Pat Lee, who had his own comic publishing company around my age. He was in Canada, a real big shot back in the day. I saw his work, great stuff, and emailed him. He had this team of other young kids running the company. If he could do it at that age, why can’t I?
So I sent him this email, “Hey, you’re just 28 running this comic company, I’m so inspired and blah blah blah…” Through that we developed a relationship, and pretty much been helping me since day one. He supplied advice on how to publish comics, how to start a business and everything. He’s been my coach, he even said that. That was great because this guy is like a legend in the industry.
MOT ~ What is it that inspires you, to create what you create and get these stories out there?
AO ~ It really changes a lot. This started when I was 20 in Houston. At first, all I wanted to do was to make some comic books. With all the red tape to work with DC or Marvel, it just seemed impossible. But I really loved what I was doing and couldn’t just give it up. For a while I just worked on my own fan comics. That is comics just based off of my favorite cartoons, and used the Internet as a way to bring it out without having to deal with a publishing company. That was my real reason.
Then I started getting some attention, receiving a little bit of recognition and stuff just started happening. People started to like the idea of my website, and just as the business has gone on, it has also propelled me forward. Although I was asking myself today “WHY am I doing this?” Then I kind of realized something looking back. At the age of 19 I was a computer programmer employed with a Texas Oil company, basically a competitor for Enron. It was a strange thing, that I loved corporate America while at the same time hating it. I hated pretty much everything about it but loved the strength of corporate America. That’s when I decided to start my own business, develop this identity, I want to become big one day but I want to be anti-corporate. The goal is to find a way to encompass those strengths without the corporate dais, (waving his arms dramatically) without all that stuff.
That’s what made me want to start a business having that financial freedom, that success to do what you want but on your own terms without having to adhere to the strict corporate structure that stifles creative adaptations. That really drove the entrepreneurship of developing this publishing company starting out. Remembering that recently triggered a renewal, which has inspired me again these eight years later.
MOT ~ What are your influences, business model, artistic, etc?
AO ~ My first influence for my own personal comic was based off of Akira Toriyama the creator of ‘Dragon Ball Z.’ I also really like Jim Lee’s art work, but he really is an artist. Currently I’m really inspired by Chinese comics and their artists like Andy Sito. These guys, the artistry in their story telling, . . . it’s just really profound. When I work on mine, I study theirs and reference it.
Also, I like to watch a lot of films. I am really driven by imagery, and how it can tell stories. Let the image tell the story. That really inspires my work, not to be so wordy and let the imagery speak for itself. If I see someone doing that well, I respect that and want learn from it; what I see in the Chinese comic artists now. If you see a really great setting or something really beautiful, it brings something positive out in you. I’d like to do that just by having people see an image.
MOT ~ Could you discuss your overall philosophy?
AO ~ It’s evolved a lot of the years and may now be more business based. When I first started my philosophy was ‘Rage Your Dream,‘ based off a Japanese pop song. Basically what I got out of it is to just work really hard, be driven, stay focused, sacrifice everything you can and focus on your dream doing everything you can. If you push your body to the limit to achieve you are giving it your all. That’s what I thought when I was younger, now. . . I mean, when I first started I did a lot. I broke up with my girlfriend, we were engaged but I just knew we were going in two totally different directions, I quit my job, and literally lived in the university library doing my work. There I slept on a couch. . .
MOT ~ What were you doing at the library, studying or something?
AO ~ Well, I didn’t have a computer. Actually I did, but it was just too decrepit to do what I needed for the website. So I used the universities library facilities to work on my business. Neither did I have a car, and it would be extremely late when I’d finish working so I couldn’t get home because the bus had stopped running.
MOT ~ What? Was this a twenty-four hour library?
AO ~ Sometimes yea it was, but on the weekends it wasn’t. (He let’s out a chuckle, whether it’s embarrassing to think about or just one of pride knowing that he did this to achieve his goal and it feels good I’m not sure) When the library was closing down I’d hide somewhere. After it had closed, the security systems were on, that’s when I’d go to work. The computers would still be operational, and I’d stay there until I felt like going home and just have to bust out through the fire exit. The alarm would ring all over campus, but what…, ya know?
MOT ~ (Just a look of disbelief on my face, very surprised that he went to this extent to get his comics out on the web)
AO ~ Yea, those were the days man. Just ‘rage your dreams,’ do what you have to do.
MOT ~ Did they not catch on after a while?
AO ~ Of course the police did, and I would get caught and kicked out all the time. It was cool. Keep in mind this was very early on. The officials learned what I was doing, and respected what I was trying to accomplish. Eventually the university provided resources, counseling, free classes, things like that to do what I had to do.
Now, I guess my model or philosophy is now. . . or the motto we’ve developed for our group is “fairness, clarity of information, and accountability.” Those three things make everyone synergetic and work together in a positive way. We use that philosophy and it has really helped us.
MOT ~ Are there any specific concepts, symbols or ideas you really try to work with? Or specific information and ideas you attempt to spread?
AO ~ I have my own work as well. One comic I was doing was the ‘Dragon Ball’ fan comic. The main character is a kid but in an adult body. My goal with that was to make him mature and to show he’s grown up.
Then I started doing my own stuff. What I’m working on now is very spiritual, Christian based. I’ve been working on it four years now, and not trying to preach to anyone in my comic, just tell the story of a man looking for peace in a very violent world. There’s just a lot violence, a dystopia, when a system breaks down and there’s just lawlessness everywhere and this guy is in the middle of everything trying to recover peace.
I guess it’s a reflection of me in a way. When I was discovering myself, it’s a retelling of my story of how I found peace. Not just that though, I’m trying to be political as well and put that question out there, “What would happen if we don’t resolve global warming or if a government has too much control over things? What will happen when people become so liberal they loose their foundation about stuff? Essentially it’s a ‘what if,’ and all this stuff that were living life now. I feel that, really. With all the liberalism, advancement of technology, the political scene right now with the war, global warming, and I feel as an artist it is leading to some type of social decay. On my comic I’m depicting that decay, and I want to get a guy who’s just basically lost his memory, woken up in this world and in the process of figuring things out. So he’s woke up in this new world, trying to figure things out and I write about it how people are experiencing their lives there. How they survive and find new beliefs or revert to old ones. It’s an exploration of discovery into what makes people tick. Why do they do things the way the do?
I’m just very political now. When I first started out I was all into superheroes, good guy versus bad guy. Now, a little bit older, I realize that there’s no black and white; everyone has shades of grey. That’s what interests me now. That and I’d like to take the medium of the comic book in a more philosophical and political direction. I’d also like to work with other artists who talk about society. We just picked up an artist, he’s from Rwanda and went through the whole genocide in Rwanda and I want to tell his story. This guy lost his family, and wrote a comic book about what he experienced there. In the comic medium now, they don’t do that. It’s all this superhero stuff. I think we need to tell the real life peoples story too. Those living life by the system how its set up, be it being born into extreme poverty or the opposite of normal suburban life, they’re still sad for some reason. What’s that? It’s time to do art work and stories about that aspect of the world. It seems worth while, and I can feel proud about what I’m doing.
MOT ~ Have you in the past set creative goals and reached them? Or, it sounds like you’ve set some, and are possibly still working towards them?
AO ~ Yea, I’ve had a lot of goals that I have reached. Of course I always wanted my books to have major distribution, say in Tower Records or Borders, in major retail stores all over the country, even in Canada. And it has actually happened, several years ago. That’s something many publishers don’t even reach and we actually did it. A more recent achievement has been a little radio show based in San Francisco that was an extension of our comics. Now its on XM satellite radio. It’s a lot of Japanese pop, and various other kinds of music. It was just a past time thing, that has now caught a buzz and now we’re on XM. These are goals you never think of, I’m just somebody from Texas, an average student. I just wanted to do something, had a vision and kept at it. I’m really surprised that things are working out like this. Especially that it was reached.
One really exciting thing is a Hollywood studio recently contacted me and asked for my comics. It took about a month but I’ve now put together a media kit of all our comics and sent it off to this agent. We’ll be meeting in the next couple weeks, and who knows what will come of it, but the thought of being developed into film is great. Actually, we had two artists who created some work that is now being converted into TV shows. One guy’s show is a werewolf story that’s going to be on FOX next year. The other now has a show on Nickelodeon called ‘Teapot.’ That’s a new goal I’d love to realize, to see my comics on TV.
The goals that I’ve set when I was younger, I’ve reached them and I’m happy. It’s hard to see what else to accomplish. Now, it’s about getting those different more philosophical stories developed and published.
MOT ~ We all have our ups and downs, and it sounds like you’ve had quite a few. How do you stay energized or re-energize after a tough period?
AO ~ My colleagues and friends, we’ve been working together a long time. We draw from each others strengths. It is really tough to do by yourself, I did it that way for about a year. It sucks. It’s great to have a strong team! I have my faith, I am a believer and have peace with that. My faith keeps me inspired. People say I have a strong drive, I hear that a lot. I get a lot of accolades for what they refer to as “my relentless ambition” to one day make it.
MOT ~ You’re making it.
AO ~ Nooo, no I’m not there yet. I really want to be up there, an enterprise you know. Because what I want to do man, my deepest dreams are to be a leader in my field and make a new standard. I’m tired of seeing franchise stuff. As a reader that likes to see lots of things it’s time for a step up. It’s time to develop series that are more in tune with what the readers want. Like American readers, sure we like anime, we like Japanese comics and such, but there’s some stuff we don’t like about anime. For example, how they prepackage it for the US, the translations, or the way they rewrite it. We can do it ourselves in our own way.
So when my company develops pieces for this market or any other, we can create a new standard for how people read comics and how they want to engage with the medium. Not how it is now. I feel we can do that, that’s my ambition, something that’s driven me all this time. I consider myself an artist, but I’m very enterprising and desire to be a really strong business leader. That’s really driving me.
MOT ~ Can you break down your process, say more specifically with your own comic books, from the spark of an idea in your mind to what gets it to the final detailed story?
AO ~ When I have an idea, I think about it in my head, jot it down, develop an outline of the major points. After that is complete I’ll develop a script, it contains character descriptions in each panel. Then either I, or a freelance artist will illustrate the script. Once it’s been illustrated and refined with inks, I will run it through the computer to put it in a publishable form. This puts it at print level to have a physical book that you can announce to distributors with a particular release date and the distributors will let stores know that your book is out and start taking orders. A month later or so you get the quantity to print is determined, the printer prints that many and sends them out. Finally, you get paid and do it all over again.
THAT’S how you make a comic.
MOT ~ When you are working through something, how do you know when it’s done? Like see it and know, “Yea, this is how I want it.”
AO ~ Oh yea, I totally get that. How do you know when it’s done? Well, that’s hard. As an artist you’re always a perfectionist, wanting something. You’ll always find something that’s wrong with it and just keep at it, even if there’s a deadline. You can try to make everything perfect but can’t really do it all. (Getting a little lost in the question, he lets out a chuckle) Hmm, how do I know when something’s done…?
MOT ~ Yea, is there some trigger inside you, a sixth sense or something?
AO ~ Holistically you can never get everything right. As long as you get the idea down, it conveys the message you want to communicate to your audience then it’s essentially done. You can always make new editions of comic books, which may be an advantage of the medium. Say you find a spelling error or something. For me, it’s tough, if you say in your heart that 95% percent of the message you want to get out is rendered than you are done.
MOT ~ So it is never done.
AO ~ Well, from the artists perspective, or say from my perspective it’s never done. Only if you’ve lost your project files, those files that allow you to edit, then it’s really done! I mean look at movie’s, they come out with that director’s cut later. It’s never done, but it all depends.
MOT ~ I can imagine some people coming back and repainting their painting even after it’s been sold and in somebody’s house. (we both laugh)
MOT ~ A question that has been recently suggested is how do you acquire the funds to support this? I know you’ve been doing this for a while, several years actually and it’s like you work to work.
AO ~ When I first started, I quit my job. Of course I’d had some money saved, but that wasn’t much. For so many years I was really broke. I received no support from my folks, but I wanted to do it and just kept at it. I bartered a lot, traded my skills as a programer for various stuff. Sometimes I could get interns adjoined to the project. Eventually I earned credit because I was able to build some working capital, and build credit to do bigger and better projects. Then we started to outsource our services to studios that wanted to make comics on their own which was a great way to build revenue. That’s what we do now. For so long I’ve been trying to get some venture capital backers. Really, it’s why I moved to San Francisco. It was the dot com age, start ups were everywhere, and I thought I could do it too. Nope, not here in the ‘Silicon Valley.’ All they want is high tech companies, not really media. Plus, to top it off, everything fell off.
For a while now we have been boot strapping, just doing what we can. At the same time give a very strong impression. We did not want to project the image of amateurs, doing our best to make the most competitive project out there without having to reveal that we’re on a shoestring budget. Actually, I think this has been very helpful for us, it has garnered us a lot of respect and credibility.
MOT ~ What do you think about your level of creative freedom? Earlier you mentioned trying to release new story lines, how difficult is that transition?
AO ~ Oh man, as a publisher, that’s a huge challenge! Sure, I can put out anything I want, but the buyers and distributors are always safe with super hero comics, those stories following the time honored tradition. Those sell. It’s a franchise. Our first comics, like Rumble Pak and Sakura Pak, is your straight up super hero stuff. They are big hits, and able to get them to market very quickly. I wouldn’t necessarily call it beginners luck, but as long as we were on that level we could give them anything.
Current experience speaks otherwise. It appears that the distributors only want to deal with our Rumble Pak, that style, they want that first. After showing them something different they really drag their feet on it. We usually have to sell them Rumble Pak too
One comic that we’ve brought out now is pushing this boundary. It’s a coming of age story. A man from Korea comes to the United States and tries to adjust. They have this company that no one is interested in this story line. They would rather have some sci-fi anime fighting samurai’s or something. They don’t want some Korean coming over to confront corporate America. They don’t want to deal with that.
What we are forced to do to appease the distributors is to take our own initiative. To push this new idea we hired a call center in Canada to call stores all over the world. In conjunction with this we’ve been taking out expensive adds and trying to host some cool events. The comic book industry may talk about ‘thinking outside the box’ but it’s lip service. It’s still stuck in the time honored super hero. So, it’s been a challenge to try and introduce new stuff. It’s a test of our abilities to find new approaches to expand the market. We really have to push hard, shove it in peoples faces and make them actually look at it.
It’s one thing to have creative control and do what ever you want. It’s great. But it’s an entirely different matter to sell that to your customers if they are set on only one thing. Not exactly one thing, but seem unwilling to try something new.
MOT ~ It sounds like it’s not just the customers, but maybe distributors and shop owners who won’t risk change. The customers may be into it, but how would they know if they can’t read it.
AO ~ Yea, that’s pretty much the case. When we show these comics to fans they really like the idea. Kids take pictures next to the full-scale poster of the Korean guy. You’re right, it’s the distributors, the publishers we work with, the press professionals with the problem with it. As a new type of comic for the US market, they’re just safe with the franchise. That’s what pays bills, and their about making money, not about exploring other ideas. That’s what I’ve realized on this level. I was in Borders, Barnes and Nobles, Tower Records and Walmart, ya know, and my comic was successful. I believed they would take anything we did, and it’s not the case. I am really committed to publishing these types of stories. No selling out of my vision here.
It is exciting to sit down and hear stories like this. What more do you need to hear to know that if you focus and set to something, it will take shape. As Austin and I sat and discussed his history and future in the lobby at the former Ansonia Residence Hotel, Bob Marley blaring in the background and the constant buzz of residents entering and exiting I caught a glimpse of the energy that feeds this guy. Very potent stuff, not just the abundant amount of Redbull. Yo, Austin, lay off the Redbull and start drinking more Yerba Mate. Keep on pushing, those new ideas are solid. They just need the exposure to catch on. If the founder of ‘Underground Comix’ R. Crumb could develop a whole new genre so far removed from the superhero segment, the door is wide open for you. Thanks for sharing.