Pilla, Kaui, & áyA Studios - An Interview With Rafael & Kristina Maldonado-Bad Hand (DINK 2018)

Written by Neil Greenaway

KEVIN BUTCHER (editor of  Pilla ) WITH KRISTINA, KODA, AND RAFAEL MALDONADO-BAD HAND AT DINK 2018. it had been a long day...

KEVIN BUTCHER (editor of Pilla) WITH KRISTINA, KODA, AND RAFAEL MALDONADO-BAD HAND AT DINK 2018. it had been a long day...

Kristina & Rafael Maldonado-Bad Hand have had a busy year. The pair of artists were married in fall of 2017. A few months later they had welcomed a new addition to their family, Koda Maldonado-Bad Hand. As if a new baby was not enough, they both have new comic series launching 2018 - the bi-monthly series Pilla from Rafael and the graphic novel Kaui from Kristina. At the Denver Independent Comic & Art Expo in April I had the opportunity to ask the two a few questions about their new books, their new áyA Studios publishing house, and how parentage and heritage play into both of their works.

The Pilla Ashcan, premiering at DINK 2018.

Neil Greenaway:  Now, just to start us off: you two are both artists, and you are a married couple. Do you ever work on the same projects?

Rafael Maldonado-Bad Hand:  Kind of. Kristina is actually helping me with the colors on Pilla. And she did the colors on the ashcan for the cover, and then for the banner. She did the colors on that as well.

NG:  But as a rule you both do your own art and writing?

Both:  Yes.

NG:  All right then, can you tell me a little bit about Pilla?

Rafael:  Yeah. It's about a seven year old girl, and she is surviving in the post-apocalyptic world. Humans are now at the bottom of the food chain. There are mutated creatures that eat us, and just about anything else. She gets separated from her dad, and she's on her own - trying to remember the lessons that he taught her. Like every child, when he was trying to teach her she was thinking, "I know better than you, I don't need to listen," but now she is finding that she really should have listened. She is figuring out these lessons on her own - she is finding out how strong of a person she really is. Meanwhile there will be little flashbacks to show her father and what he is dealing with in his hunt for her. He will also see her growth and see what kind of person she really is. The whole point of the series will be that it's not really the parents who should be seen as superheroes, it's the kids. Her father will see that in her inner strength.

NG:  You have the ashcan issue of Pilla ready to premiere at DINK and the first full issue will premiere at Denver Comic Con, is that correct?

Pilla (2018) #1, cover by Rafael Maldonado-Bad Hand.

Rafael:  That is the plan.

NG:  What are your plans in terms of this becoming an ongoing series?

Rafael:  We are already planning it as a series. I plan to release an issue every other month, so we are going to hit 6 issues a year.

NG:  Do you have a defined endpoint for the series? Do you know if this story is 6 or 12 or 18 issues?

Rafael:  No, not really. We're just going to let it keep going. What I do know is that her journey will take years, and every year she will age with us in real time. This won't be like Spider-Man or Batman where the character is permanently trapped in their twenties. We are actually going to watch her grow. I really took inspiration from The Savage Dragon. You got to witness him going through the years. His marriage, his children, his death, and then his son took over the book and we're getting to see his children and his career. It is no longer the original Savage Dragon. Now it is Malcolm, and that is what I would like to do with Pilla. I really like that concept.

NG:  That is a really cool thing for any indie book to achieve, just the longevity it takes to tell that story. Now to switch gears a little bit. Kristina, can you tell me about the new book that you have coming out?

Kristina Maldonado-Bad Hand:  Sure. The book is called Kaui, and it is basically a Polynesian twist on Beauty and the Beast. This will be part of a series as well, one that I've been working on for a while. The series is called Indigenous Fairy Tales. Basically I take traditional fairy tales and themes from traditional stories of different indigenous tribes, and I try to mix them into a modern fairytale that deals with problems indigenous people have in their lives today. So while the stories take place in modern times, there are themes from the traditional stories as well as themes from the classic fairy tales.

Kaui: Beyond the Pages (2018) #1, cover by Kristina Maldonado-Bad Hand.

NG:  Does this series deal only with the different Polynesian tribes, or will you bring in stories from mainland tribes as well?

Kristina:  The series will be dealing with tribes from all over. I just sort of started with Kaui because that was the first concept I had sketched out, and Beauty and the Beast made its way in because it is my favorite fairy tale. I got a lot of support for this idea and my sister actually lives in Oahu now, so that was a really big help. She was able to put together a focus group who could tell me if I was doing everything correctly on a cultural level. I've had people collaborating with me on this. It has become a larger project than what it was originally. The original release of this story I actually put out in 2013. That was the first issue. The funny thing is, when I was working with the Indigenous Narratives Collective, we needed to release something for Comic-Con. We wanted to premier something. Originally we were going to premiere Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers but that did not go through. The artists did not finish what they were doing, and it just was not happening. They asked me if I could get Kaui done, so I put together that first release in two weeks. It was kind of crazy. My lovely husband here helped me with the inks because I had to write, draw, and color a 27 page comic - in two weeks.

NG:  Wow! That schedule must have been killer!

Kristina:  It actually came out pretty good, but it was not what I had been picturing and it was not the big project that I wanted it to be. I ended up revisiting it, and now it is going to be... 100 pages?

Rafael:  Yeah. It was 64 before the additions.

Kristina:  Yeah, it started at 64 pages but then after I had done my cultural revisions and added new inks and colors... now it is 100 pages. (laughs)

Pilla (2018) #1, variant cover by Kristina Maldonado-Bad Hand.

NG:  And you said this was going to be a series as well?

Kristina:  Yes, but the stories stand alone. So Kaui is a stand-alone story, and the next one will be called Kupu and it will be an Inuit version of The Little Mermaid. Then on the issue after that I have plans to collaborate with my lovely husband here.

Rafael:  I'm lovely.

Kristina:  we are going to do a Lakota Pinocchio - because I am Sicangu Lakota and Cherokee. We have a lot of stories about a spider trickster spirit named Iktomi. There are a lot of lessons about Iktomi taking the form of a real boy. Rafael actually brought up the idea of combining it with Pinocchio because for a long time I had been looking for a fairy tale that fit in somewhere with Lakota culture. I just could not figure it out, which had put that issue on the back burner. I have so many ideas for this series. I had almost every tribe matched up with a fairytale but I could not figure that one out until he suggested Pinocchio. Now I am excited for this one. It may jump up ahead of the Kupu story.

NG:  I know that you have Lakota in your lineage. Do you also have any Hawaiian lineage that is informing your need to do the Kaui story?

Kristina:  I actually do not. What happened was my sister married someone from Hawaii, and it is a culture I have always found very beautiful. I have had a lot of connections to people from that area throughout my life and it was just something I wanted to explore more of.

NG:  And then if I could go back to your Lakota heritage for just one moment, I know that you also have a set of Lakota themed playing cards that you have done the art for. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Kristina:  Yes, that was a Kickstarter project. That one originally came about because I was going to the Art Institute and one of our assignments was to create a deck of playing cards. I had designed just three cards for the class, but when my teacher saw them he said, "You should make a whole deck!" I kind of liked the idea but I wasn't sold on it. My mother, however, was like, "Yes you have to do this!" So I drew up the rest of the deck and we had the Kickstarter campaign. It was successfully funded. We are actually still getting cards out to people. Fulfillment is a whole monster that I wish I had researched before we started the campaign.

Card illustrations from the Lakota card deck by Kristina Maldonado-Bad Hand.

NG:  I have heard from many people that the shipping on Kickstarter projects is the part that always gets people in trouble.

Kristina:  Oh yes! I have learned a whole bunch of lessons by running that Kickstarter. In my after-school program now, with my students I really try to hammer down both the negative and the positive sides of creative entrepreneurship. Creating art is great, but there is a business side to it - and that is something I wish I had understood more of before I ran a Kickstarter. I feel like with the production of the cards and then the shipping, I really should have had a financial manager for my first project. There are all these little check marks that I didn't realize I should be hitting until after the project had finished. Now it is 5 years down the road and this is still a monster we are dealing with.

NG:  You two both have new books coming out. Now that you have a little bit of experience with Kickstarter, have you considered crowdfunding for either of these books? Or is they going to be entirely self-published?

Rafael:  Actually, yes. Crowdfunding is something that we have been really looking at for Pilla, but because this was my first book I didn't think I would be able to raise the funding I would need. Luckily I have a friend who has just opened up his own comic store and he is helping us out with the first print run. Then I will be doing crowdfunding for the second issue. That way I have a point to jump off from instead of just nothing.

Kristina:  And Kaui is actually grant-funded.

NG:  Really? Where did the grant come from?

Kristina:  I actually can't remember the name of the grant right now... We are still in the process of getting that all worked out. (laughs)

NG:  ....but you were incredibly flattered to get the offer. (laughs)

Kristina:  Yes! We are still in the process of it, but we got it through the Indigenous Film Festival here in Denver. Jeanne Rubin does a lot of the Polynesian films, so she is helping us out by seeing what can be done with different indigenous fairy tales.

NG:  These projects are both coming out of the independent comics community. Do you both feel that the world of independent comics is a strong place to be telling your stories right now?

Character design for the Kaui graphic novel by Kristina Maldonado-Bad Hand.

Rafael:  I am totally behind it, and I feel it is the best place for us to be telling our stories right now. I listen to Todd McFarlane a lot, and I know that a lot of people don't care for his attitude, but I think he is actually very brilliant. He has stated that we needed as an industry to go towards the independent. He said we needed more original characters. That people needed to stop drawing other people's stuff, and start drawing their own. His reason for that was that the two biggest comic companies are now owned by two of the biggest movie studios in the world. So if one of the smaller movie studios wants to make a comic book movie, they can't go to Marvel - because Disney wouldn't let that happen. And they can't go to DC and Warner Brothers for the same reason. So they are going to start going to the independents, and we have already started seeing that. The independent comic creators are still writing for originality. We still love the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we love to see the continuing stories of the characters we all know. At the same time, we also crave original stories. I like DINK for that. I like the whole independent market for that. We are completely behind it.

NG:  And then for you Kristina, there has been a lot of talk lately about the hardship of being a woman in the comics industry. Have you personally experienced any setbacks?

Kristina:  I have. There have definitely been setbacks.

NG:  Do you think that being Native American had an effect? Do you think it made things better or worse?

Kristina:  I have faced hardships, but I wouldn't say they were any worse then what other people have gone through. In terms of getting ideas funded or books published, I might almost say being Lakota was a good thing - because it is such a popular tribe. We do have to deal with a fair amount of cultural appropriation, but it gets my foot in the door. A lot of the time as soon as I mention that I am Lakota, because there is still that Romanticism about it, people want to know more. People seem to hope that there will be something mystical about me, but that does allow me to talk more. Hopefully they actually listen to me.

Independent comics have been very kind to me and I do prefer it over the mainstream pop-culture fan-art conventions. I went through a period as an artist where I was doing prints of famous comic characters, but it was a very short time in my life because when I had started I was doing all original stuff and it sold really well. Then I started doing fan art and my sales went down. I did not do very well when I was selling prints of other people's characters, but when I do my own stuff it always sells really well. My playing cards, for instance are my best selling item.

NG:  Well those cards are awesome!

Character design for the Kaui graphic novel by Kristina Maldonado-Bad Hand.

Rafael:  I actually have the opposite problem. I had started with prints and fan art, and it sold really well. Then my sales dipped when I started doing independent stuff, but it is picking back up now that I am getting close to publishing Pilla. I have run into that. I don't really miss the fan art. There were characters that I enjoyed drawing ,and if some studio came to me and said, "Hey we would love for you to draw The Crow," *hint hint* - I would totally jump on that. But I do love my independent stuff way more. It is a lot more personal and there is a lot more heart in it.

NG:  With that in mind, do either of you pitch to publishers? Or are you happy to get your books out as self-published?

Rafael:  We do pitch to publishers everyday. It's just that we are the publishers. We have a company called áyA Studios, and we are striving to make that a publishing house.

NG:  So you actually want to be publishing other people's stories?

Rafael:  Yes, that is one of our main focuses. Let's say that you have a story that needs to be told. You would have to pitch it to us and explain to us why it needs to be told. You would have to show us it is not just another Walking Dead spinoff or a retelling of the Spider-Man story. It would need to be an original story that held some relevance in the world today. Then we can help with making that, or we can help connect writers and artists if they need that. Or if you do it all on your own we can just help you get it out there. We go the independent publishing route, we just charge a small fee for printing. That has been a primary focus for us.

Kristina:  And then we also make motion comics in a workshop with Tomorrow Maker Films. They are also going to be at DINK. They are a non-profit that is mostly made up of kids - it's about 25 kids. They write, storyboard, and film their own stories. The story they are working on is a post-apocalyptic world where basically anyone over the age of 14 is gone and so it is only children. It's got sort of a Star Wars feel to it. It is a really interesting story that they have got going on. They started this nonprofit 5 years ago with just a few kids, and it was supposed to be just one quick project. Now they have 25 kids and it is sort of an ongoing project. At any rate, we started working with them and sort of teaching them how to do comic books. They wanted their prequel to be told in a comic book format, and we are animating it as a motion comic so that it can be spliced into their film as flashbacks. Hopefully we will have a preview of all that soon.

NG:  How would you release these motion comics? Would they be available on a website?

Pilla: Issue #1, Ashcan, issue #1 variant, & prismatic print (in back).

Kristina:  Yes, on our website we have a place called Storyteller's Port - which is an online portfolio essentially. That's one of the things we wanted to do - particularly for people who have ideas for independent stories that were not as fleshed out. They could do a one-page comic and then we could animate it - almost like an animatic or an elevator pitch for their comic idea. Then they can elaborate on that, or they can come back to our website and refer to it when they are going into schools or things like that. It will always be there. That is one section of our website we are working on. The very first motion comics to go up - our premiers - would be the ones with Tomorrow Maker Films. We also want to start having motion comic classes that maybe don't have an age limit on them - but still geared towards middle school age, because I think for young kids these concepts might still be hard to understand. That said, we are definitely not against younger kids learning this stuff.

NG:  Awesome! I think that about wraps it up for us today, but I have one more question for both of you. If the people reading this want to see more of your work or follow you online, where can they look to do that?

Rafael:  We are on Facebook under createaya we are also on Instagram as well and Pinterest.

Kristina:  On Pinterest I do reading recommendations for different ages of school kids. Our content is kind of heavy on the education side of comics, so on our Pinterest there are resources for teachers. If they wanted to integrate things like pop culture or comics or games into their classrooms. Then I have my reading recommendations, and we have a couple different art lesson boards. It is worth saying that our Pinterest is not necessarily all stuff that we put out, it is just a resource center for us. Facebook is probably the best place to see our work.

Rafael:  Yeah, Facebook is the big one for us. On a personal note, I also have a Patreon under RafaelMaldonadoBadHand (all one big word). There you will see sneak peeks of things like Pilla and another book I am working on with a buddy of mine. Also there are options that will get you original art.

Kristina:  And of course our website is áyAStudios.com. That is still under construction because we are adding the whole motion comics thing, but you can still go there.