by Jeffrey O. Gustafson
Jamal Igle is having a good week. His new Kickstarter-funded creator-owned graphic novel Molly Danger was released, with a huge release party at JHU Comic Books Saturday Night in Manhattan. Molly Danger, about an apparently ten year old superhero, is that rare gem of a comic, steeped in genre yet remixing it in fresh ways, energetically written and beautifully illustrated, and a true all-ages book that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Hardly an overnight success, in Molly Danger Igle has announced himself as one of mainstream comics’ new superstars, riding the new wave of the creator-owned renaissance and one of Kickstarter’s many remarkable success stories. Sunday at New York Comic Con, I talked to Igle about Molly Danger, turning rejection into success, and making a comic his daughter can read.
JOG: Can you tell us about the genesis of the project?
JI: From idea to publishing, it took about a decade. Me and a friend of mine came up with the idea originally as an animation pitch. We were going to pitch it around to Nickelodeon, what have you, this was about the tail end of 2002. Being old comic book guys, we decided, hey, we should do this as a comic book. We were going to do it as a comic book, then I got busy. And I kept getting busier, and busier, and busier with other work and I ended up putting Molly to the side.
Then around 2009, I had been approached by Abrams to pitch them an all-ages superhero property. I dusted off Molly. I looked up what we had originally written, it was a much different premise, much looser, more along the lines of Amethyst Princess of Gemworld, where we didn’t know which reality was the real reality, it was way too complicated. So I pared it down to the base idea which was she was Molly Danger and had always been Molly Danger. Once I started from that point, it was a matter of rewriting and firming things up. I rewrote the pitch, pitched it to Abrams, never heard anything back. Pitched it to Tor, Random House, never heard anything back. Tried to get a literary agent involved, she said “Looks great, it’s a great comic book property, I don’t know where to take it.”
So I left it on the shelf for a couple of more years until my contract ran out with DC. Another writer approached me about doing a webcomic project with funding from Kickstarter. I had never heard of Kickstarter. I investigated Kickstarter and I said, you know what, I can do this, I’ve got plenty of ideas, I’ve got something I would love to do. And Molly kept just screaming at me, pick me, pick me. So I spent six months putting a campaign together, getting as much advice as I could from everybody I knew had done successful Kickstarters, checking out why some succeeded and why some failed. We launched a 30 day campaign, I asked for $45,000 and we raised $50,000.
JOG: The presentation of Molly Danger is gorgeous. Why release the story as a hardcover album instead of as a mini-series or traditional OGN?
JI: I did some work for Humanoids a few years back on a series called Army of Angels, and I’ve always been a friend of that format. I wanted to do something that– not only would comic fans gravitate to, but because of the size and the format I could get non-comic readers to come and pick up something that they felt they could put on their bookshelf or coffee tables and be proud to own. I feel that if you give somebody a beautiful package, something that they think is worth their money and time to invest in, then that is going to be your repeat customer. [Self-publishing] gave me the excuse to do the work the way that I wanted to do it and have it be seen in the format that I wanted it to be seen. I could not do Molly the same way as a standard comic book. Honestly, there’s probably about four issues of content in that one album alone, at nine by twelve. And I wanted to do something that would stand out on the stands. It’s not my job to try and compete with the Marvels and the DCs of the world, my job is to create the best product that I can possibly create.
JOG: After working in the trenches at DC for so long, what is it like to have something that you own completely, that is entirely your baby?
JI: It’s extremely gratifying. There’s nothing against working for Marvel or DC. I’m a big boy and I know the realities of working for larger companies, I’m still working for larger companies. But the only longevity you have as a creator is putting your own stamp on things. There’s very few characters that you could create for a major company that would ever have the kind of longevity of a Superman or Spider-Man or Fantastic Four. These are characters that have been around at least fifty years.
This is the thing I want to leave behind for my daughter. One of the things that really pushed me to do Molly Danger was the idea that there wasn’t really anything that my daughter, at her age [she’s five], that I felt comfortable enough to let her read–
JOG: I would give Molly Danger to my nine year old niece and five year old niece. There’s not a lot out there that I could do that with. It felt good to read something that I could enjoy and that they could enjoy.
JI: That was always the goal. It’s funny, I was talking to Joe Kelly about this, there is no female Ben Ten. [There are female superheroes with the major companies], but the way they are being handled right now is not something you can give to children. And we need more characters, younger characters, characters of color, of different sexualities, presented in a way that parents feel comfortable sharing. It’s a beautiful thing when we can do that.
JOG: The book is kind-of open-ended, do you want to do more of these? Same format?
JI: Absolutely, it’ll all be the same format.
JOG: Do you want to Kickstart the other volumes?
JI: It’s looking more like that, we’ll see. I have other projects that I’m working on in-between. I’m going to look at things probably in the early spring, see where we’re going and make a decision.
JOG: As Molly Danger started as an animation pitch, would you be interested in doing an adaptation of it?
JI: I would be, it depends on the company, if they saw the same vision that I saw. I’m not in a rush to sell any rights. I want to put the books out first, and get Molly out in the world.
JOG: Finally, that was one hell of a party last night. Did you expect that response?
JI: [Laughter] That was a swinging shindig! I pray for that kind of response. I was overwhelmed and frankly exhausted afterwards.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.