Written by Neil Greenaway
At DINK 2017 I had the chance to sit down and talk with Phil Buck of Those Shadow People about his take on publishing indie comics. This interview originally ran on Bleeding Cool on 4/13/2017, and you can read their version of it here.
This year at the Denver Independent Comic and Art Expo (DINK!) there was a table with just as many vinyl records as comic books on display. As I spoke to Phil Buck (the charismatic man behind the table), I heard the story of a record label that wanted me to read comics and a comic book that wanted to share its music.
Neil Greenaway: What can you tell me about Those Shadow People?
Phil Buck: Well, first, Those Shadow People is a comic book series and also a band. Of sorts.
NG: Is your company publishing the book?
PB: Yes, but technically we don’t have a publishing company. What we have is more of a record label. It’s called Nematode Records. We started back in 2010 when we Kickstarted a 45 – a little 7? record just to get things going. The next idea we had was a record with a comic book, and that is where all this has blossomed from.
NG: What can you tell us about the story?
PB: The story is akin to an Alice In Wonderland type tale. Our main character (Sarah Saber) falls into some inter-dimensional adventures because her father is doing research on dark matter and ends up cracking the breach between worlds. Our cast of characters, Those Shadow People, are kind of like the people that Alice met on her adventure. But at the same time, those characters are also based on the musicians that were part of the musical process. They all helped to dream up the shadow-versions of themselves. We wanted to represent those people on the page and hopefully have a story that connects it all together as well.
NG: I do see a lot of vinyl records at your table today. I also see that every comic comes with a digital music download. What can you tell me about that?
PB: Just to give you a brief history of why we would do something like that – we started a record label, and we were really into making vinyl because that was sort of coming back. And we thought, well, how cool would it be to get a record that comes with a comic book? So that is where we started. But that was not totally accessible, not everybody has a record player, so we’ve moved more into the digital realm. We just want to give people a package that offers a comic book and music together. They are the same experience, just in two different ways. The same narrative with different ways of consuming it.
NG: And how many issues have you guys put together so far?
PB: We are up to our fourth issue now. We have the first three with us here today at DINK, with the fourth one online because it runs as a webcomic as well.
NG: You said that you were involved with the production of the music. Do you actually play in the band?
PB: Yeah, definitely! I definitely played a lot of the music. We also have a rotating cast of musicians who come in to play different instruments depending on who is available. But myself, my friend Tim Santos, and my friend Nick are kind of the core musicians. I have also taken on the role of writing the comics.
NG: Do you write the music as well?
PB: Yeah, but I wouldn’t say that I write it alone. I have to give credit where credit is due. Tim and Nick are heavily involved in the writing as well. The three of us together are pretty much the main songwriters.
NG: As a series, do you consider Those Shadow People to be ongoing, or is there a planned arc with a set end point?
PB: I don’t think that we have a specific end point in mind, so I would call it ongoing. As a musician or as a band, you never really want to stop making music. So we want to keep recording as long as we feel that it is an enjoyable project, and we will keep making comics to go along with that. At some point, it might be nice to say that a story arc has completed, and collect that as a trade paperback and then maybe take a small break. For now, though, we just keep going until it’s no longer sustainable I suppose.
NG: When it comes to experiencing the story, is the music meant to be played while you read?
PB: I would say so, yeah. It is not so explicit that you need to turn the page at the chorus or anything. But it sets the mood, for sure.
NG: Do you feel that the music adds emotional layers to the work?
PB: Yeah, I do. Music is so abstract that it often gets to touch on ideas that are specific to certain characters that may just be auxiliary in the book. But you can explore somebody’s interpersonal drama in a song. We have songs that talk about our main character Sarah and her relationship with her father. They’ve been estranged, and you can hear some of that regret, some of that struggle that they have gone through. So there are pieces of the music that if you wanted to dig into the story more, you could find it there.
NG: Do you think that Nematode would ever consider publishing other comic books?
PB: I think in the long term, yes. I think that I have learned so much about making comics through this process. I was not a comic creator when I got into all this. I had to learn a whole lot. Like how to write, and how to write for comics, and how to make comics. That all threw me down my own little rabbit hole and has obsessed me. Having all of that new knowledge, I think that I would like to try something that is not anchored to making music and comics together. At the same time, we have already created some spin-offs where Those Shadow People might be akin to our team book, but there are stories concerning the individual characters that are worth telling too. So the musicians can take their characters and do little solo projects. Maybe that is too ambitious but it is something that we have dabbled in already.
NG: Concerning either music or comic books, does Nematode accept submissions?
PB: I guess that to be entirely fair, we are pretty focused on our own projects. But I don’t think that would really prohibit us. Those Shadow People is a very collaborative project. So if anybody was interested in submitting their music to do something like this, I would be very interested in getting to know what they want to do. At the very least, maybe I can show them how to set out on that path. Or in the best case scenario, maybe we could make something together. I am very open to submissions, I just don’t think that I’ve ever had that on my plate before.
NG: Where can people who want to see more from you look? You had mentioned a webcomic.
PB: If you primarily want to read the comics, I would suggest going to ThoseShadowPeople.com. If you are more interested in the musical side of things, you can go to NematodeRecords.com. If you buy an album, you always get a comic and there are download codes for music in every issue. We always have that little bit of crossover no matter which site you are going to, but if you primarily want one or the other we do have 2 sites. We are also on all the major social media sites, just search for Those Shadow People.
NG: What’s next for Nematode? What comes after DINK?
PB: Specifically, I really hope to put together a trade paperback of what we have done so far. And then maybe put together a full length record instead of these little 7" guys. That is probably our short term agenda. I would like to see that happen in the next year or so. Beyond that, we just hope to keep making music and to keep making comics. And to keep getting better at both.