Jeremy Holt has yet to receive his “big break” with a book at a Top 5 publisher, but he’s continued plugging away at various comics projects, focusing on art over commerce. Recently his grunge fantasy Skip to the End was released in hardcover, and it may be his finest work to date. I interviewed Jeremy previously to discuss the first issue of Skip to the End, but after two years and the release of the whole graphic novel, there was plenty more to talk about. Enjoy my interview with Holt about Skip to the End’s journey to publication, keeping a lot of plates in the air, and how much he plans his future in comics.
How did Skip to the End come together, both as a comic through Heavy Metal and a graphic novel through Insight Comics?
Skip to the End was destined for the pitch graveyard. It was rejected by just about every publisher. All of them viewed it as either too controversial in subject matter, or not interesting enough in concept. I hadn’t even thought of Heavy Metal, mainly because I didn’t know anyone there, nor whether their comic line was a viable option. Fortunately, around this time, my co-writer and dear friend Tim Daniel happened to have stepped into the role of Production Editor, for both the magazine and comics line. I sent him the first chapter/issue, and he loved it. With his support (and shared love for all things Nirvana), he managed to get eyes on it at the publisher. A few weeks later, Heavy Metal offered to print it.
A year later, all four issues were released, but due to a hiccup with Diamond, the publisher’s plan to print the collected edition was put on indefinite hold. I waited for about six months before deciding to try and find the book a new home. I was already about a year and a half into a project with Insight Comics, and on a whim sent it to my editor. He loved it enough to take it to the publisher’s next acquisition meeting. Unfortunately, it was rejected, so I just sort of abandoned the idea of ever seeing the book in trade form.
Almost a year after the last issue was published by Heavy Metal, my editor emailed me out of the blue to say that he believed in the book enough to push for it again with his higher-ups. This time something stuck, and I was offered a deal memo for Skip to the End to be printed as a hardcover graphic novel. Fast forward another year, and here we are.
Skip to the End plays with the idea of music as a form of time travel, particularly for the person who made the music. How do you think that experience is different between fans of the music and the actual musicians?
That’s a great question. I think the experience is dynamically different based on the relationship to the material. Fans of music take a passive role, while the musicians take on an active one. However, what they do share in common is a deep resonance for music’s ability to move us on a myriad of levels.
I’ve long believed that music—like smell—is a time machine. We all have particular songs and scents that instantly transport us to a specific time and place. I wanted to capture the essence of this and use it as a narrative vehicle to explore the themes of loss, regret, addiction, and suicide.
The title of the song featured in the book and graphic novel can be interpreted a number of different ways. What does “Skip to the End” mean to you?
The song itself is meant to evoke a very specific music aesthetic; in this case the rise of (for a lack of better term) grunge music. It seemed an impossible task to try and weave a song’s sonic qualities into the narrative threads of a book. For a while, this actually deterred me from actually writing it because I just wasn’t sure how I could pull it off. Cue my music guru and good friend from college: John Merchant. We both graduated from the film program at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Other than being a talented filmmaker, John is also a gifted musician and songwriter. He exposed me to all the good music and has since left an indelible mark on my musical taste, and a constant need to discover new bands.
When I mentioned the book to him, I asked if he’d be interested in writing the lyrics for a Nirvana-esque band. He sent me the lyrics the next day. Once I had the song I had an epiphany on how to make this book work. Whether I actually succeeded in my goal is definitely debatable, but I’m happy with the end result.
A lot of your work has been self-published or through a small publisher. What kind of responsibilities does that add compared to making a comic through a publisher like Image or Dark Horse?
Honestly? I can’t really say for sure since I’ve never been published by either Image or Dark Horse. What I have gathered from a couple projects that almost received a green light from both is that there really isn’t much of a difference between self-publishing to small publishers to big ones; not regarding creator-owned comics anyway. Currently, the bigger publishers like Dark Horse and IDW have taken a much more passive approach to producing non-licensed property. They’ve even referred to this as the “Image approach”.
The only perk that I can see with going with a larger publisher is the support of an editorial staff that can help manage production. But when it comes to marketing and promotion, creators are still expected to handle/manage their careers. Because of this, I have hired a manager who oversees all of the tedious admin work, so I can simply focus on the writing.
Did releasing Skip to the End through Heavy Metal help raise awareness amongst comics readers?
I don’t think so. To this day, few people understand that Heavy Metal has a comic book line that is entirely separate from the magazine.
How do you market your new books in the tidal wave of releases, both through retail stores and ComiXology?
I’ve spent over ten years networking with various comic book news outlets, both in person and via social media. I thought I was doing an adequate job too. That was until I hired my manager, Amy Brander of Gutter Magic. It quickly became apparent to me that I was doing below the bare minimum.
Thanks to Amy, not only has she increased the retailer outreach of my books by twenty-fivefold (not exaggerating), but they’re also circulating in multiple non-comic related markets.
Do you think the comics you and your collaborators create take longer to come together given you only earn money after they’re completed?
1000% yes. This is the sole reason why Skip to the End was capped at four issues. If we could have afforded (time and money) to extend it, I would have absolutely extended the story by at least twenty pages.
How long have some of your books taken to come together?
Let’s see… Skip to the End was five years in the making. My next OGN entitled After Houdini has been seven years in the making. I have another OGN that still hasn’t found a publisher that I’ve spent ten years working on. It’s a 110-page book that’s about 95% inked and 30% colored.
Do you have a lot of different projects at various stages of production?
I do. Typically I’ll have 5-8 going simultaneously. Last year I scaled this back to only a couple so that I could focus on writing two prose novels instead.
How do you stay connected to your fans between releases?
Lots and lots of interviews. It also goes a long way to stay very active on social media. What I haven’t done much of, but will plan to do a lot of in 2018 and beyond, is attending and tabling at conventions. Now that I have four complete books out from now until May 2019, this seems like the perfect time to dive headfirst into the convention circuit.
Do you have a set plan for how to grow your career, or do you prefer to keep things open-ended so you can see where things take you?
I let go of any foreseen plans a long time ago. I found that holding onto these plans or goals was nothing more than a distraction for me. Now I simply focus on being present. Just do the work, and let the rest fall into place in due time. After all, this is the only thing that I can truly control.
Matt Chats is an interview series featuring discussions with a creator or player in comics, diving deep into industry, process, and creative topics. Find its author, Matt O’Keefe, on Twitter and Tumblr. Email him with questions, comments, complaints, or whatever else is on your mind at firstname.lastname@example.org.