When it comes to the comic book industry most people already know about the heavy hitters. They know about Marvel and DC and if they have any active interest in the medium they know about the larger independents like Image, Dark Horse, BOOM! or IDW. But what many of us don’t know is that there is an entire industry out there of individuals working to get their own books published. Working people with regular jobs who have a passion for storytelling and invest their own time and money into their works. Back in 2013 I became acquainted with a few of these individuals, one of whom is the subject of today’s article. On YouTube, he is known as The Real Manos and a contributor on Geekvolution. He is the writer of the vampire novel Divita, the nightmare fuel disguised as a children’s book, Krampus in the Corner, and his own independent comic series, The Red Knight. He is a writer of violence and a lover of women. He is Justin Cristelli.
TG: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
JC: No problem! Thanks for having me!
TG: So before we get started I do need to disclose that I have met you several times before and have bought your comics as well as donated to your Patreon and do intend to donate to the Red Knight Kickstarter as well. Just needed to put that out there. So now that we have that out of the way please tell me in your own words how all of this began. Why did you opt to become a storyteller?
JC: It started in high school really. I wrote a couple of plays for drama class and thought they came out rather decent. Since I’ve been a comic book fan since I was a kid, it was a simple step. Like many fans, I would have my own ideas of how things should be. They soon turned into creating my own characters. I write what I want to see.
TG: Hmm. Interesting. So, The Red Knight. You obviously have a Kickstarter project for the latest issue in the works. Tell us a bit about the book. What is the plot? When did you originally conceive of the character? How much has he changed over the years? What drove you to finally take a crack at it and invest a significant portion of your free time and money to risk a venture that was almost guaranteed to not only fail but probably bankrupt you as well? What was that final push?
JC: I created Red Knight in 1990 under a different name, The Desert Knight. The series was supposed to be a modern superhero western. It wasn’t long before I thought doing the character in my hometown would be more interesting. Believe it or not, that might be the biggest change. As soon as Red Knight became developed in my head, I HAD TO DO IT. Thankfully, the internet has made it a lot easier than it was in the 90’s. I know I most likely won’t get rich from it and I kinda don’t care. I dreamed of making comics as a kid and now I do it. I may be small potatoes, but I’m happy creating them.
TG: So tell me a little bit about Primal Paper Comics. Who were the key people in that group and how did you guys operate?
JC: Primal Paper Comics started out as Paper Tiger Comics led by Mike Federali. He brought in a few people like myself, Bob Frantz, and Vince White. Soon it became Primal Paper and Mike went off to develop Tidewater Comic-Con. The idea was to become a group effort of a small band of comic creators working under the title. That group was myself, Jeff Hewitt (The Ends) Bob Frantz (41), Vince White (Will Power) Forrester Randlet (Dogs & Sailors), and Jon Jonsick (Edward & Pepper). We would fund our own personal books. We would support and promote each other, appear together at cons.
TG: So wait, you’re friends with the guy who owns Tidewater Comic-Con?
JC: Yup. We met in 2011. He’s been pretty inspirational.
TG: So then late in 2015/early 2016 you and The Ends creator Jeff Hewitt split with Primal Paper Comics, citing creative differences. Generally speaking, that is a very ambiguous term in any creative industry. So please tell us what exactly happened there? What caused the split? How have your relationships with Vince White and the other guys been since the split?
JC: Yeah, it’s the basic “Creative Differences” story. Mostly it was life pulling us into separate directions. We were a pretty loose group anyway, not really a comic company in the traditional sense. Bob went off to join Action Lab, Vince started work on The Powerverseand Jeff started Dead West Comics. Since we’ve known each other since high school, he asked me to join, so that was an easy move. Funny enough, I currently have a foot in Dead West and Powerverse. Vince asked me if my characters Red Knight and Martha Brown could appear in the big crossover event that is to launch his new company starting with The Powers That Be #1. I still chat with Bob, Jon, and Forrester is coloring Red Knight #9.
TG: You’re doing a crossover with the Powerverse? When will that story be out? Can you give us any insight as to how that’s going to happen within your universes?
JC: The Powers That Be #1 launches the new line. That should be out anytime now. I’m excited to be a part of it.
TG: So Dead West Comics. You and Hewitt split from Primal to do your own thing. Hewitt announces all of these new series that he wants to produce and then nothing. The last tweet that came from the company was back in June of 2016 and the last site update was in May of that year. What is going on with that? What’s happened?
JC: Jeff has been very working with The Virginian Pilot lately, that takes up a lot of time. I would like to develop Dead West more in the future though.
TG: I see. Well, as you yourself admitted there has been a year’s long gap in between Red Knight #8 and Red Knight #9. Why is this? What exactly happened that caused the delay?
JC: A lack of money. 2015 and 2016 were rough years for me financially. Thankfully, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I just hope it’s not a train.
TG: Heh heh. Let’s hope not. So the Kickstarter for Issue #9 has a pretty high goal of $1,500. Why is it that high?
JC: Actually, it’s kinda low compared to others. Kathryn Calamia’s Like Father Like Daughter #4’s goal was $4,500 and Vince White’s The Powers That Be #1 was $3,200.
TG: Really? Can you give us a bit more insight into this? For an independent writer like yourself how much does it actually cost to produce a single issue? Can you take us a bit through the process as to how the book is made?
JC: Yeah. That’s a lot that goes into an issue. You gotta pay for the art, color, lettering, printing, shipping, and shipping costs like the packaging.
TG: So here are the pessimistic questions. What happens if the Kickstarter fails? Does the series go back on indefinite hiatus? Does it just die? Are you going to try again on another site? Lower the goal and try again? What happens if this doesn’t succeed?
JC: Luckily, Red Knight is nearly done. So, if the Kickstarter fails, it’s still gonna happen. It will cause me to cut some corners on the budget and it might push back the release for a few weeks. If it doesn’t succeed, it will be due to the fact that it’s been out of reader’s minds for two years. I will continue to try and get the comic in people’s hands and do another Kickstarter. I need to build a readership. I can be delayed, but I won’t stop.
TG: So speaking of Kickstarter, here is the big one and the one that I found a little disconcerting. I did a little digging and I found the Kickstarter for Krampus in the Corner that you and your wife did about ten months ago as of writing this article. What I found odd was that it nearly made $60,000 while you two were only asking for about $2,800. So, I have to ask why didn’t you take some of that cash and put it into Red Knight? Why do you even need another Kickstarter for it? Unless I am completely wrong I would imagine that even after Kickstarter took its cut and once all the project expenses were taken to account you would have had at least a good $40,000 left over and begs the question as to why you need additional backing for this relatively small project.
JC: Most of the money Lindsay and I raised went right back into production. She was planning to hand sew the dolls, but when the Kickst
arter exploded, we had to hire a manufacturer to make the dolls. We paid them for creation and shipping of the dolls. We also used the money for the printing of the books, extra rewards, and shipping all that. The U.S. Post Office made a lot of money off us. We did have some money left over and that mostly went to bills, taxes, and debts
TG: I see. That actually is something that lines up with other independent Kickstarter projects where the costs of actually shipping out rewards and whatnot almost exceeded the Kickstarter budget. I assume that is what almost happened here?
JC: Luckily, ours exploded crazy enough to cover the costs. Shipping costs alone went into the thousands.
TG: So, one final question. We originally met back in 2013 at the 2 Day VA Comic Con show in Richmond, Virginia. Do you have any plans to go to any more conventions to help promote your books? If so, which ones do you plan to appear at?
JC: I’ll be at Monsterfest at the Chesapeake Central Library and Hampton Comic Con at Lindsay’s Silent Orchid table. Both are in October. I hope to do more cons next year. I wanna do VA Comic Con, Tidewater, and Heroes Con.
TG: Well Mr. Cristelli thank you again for taking the time to talk with me and I look forward to seeing you again when our paths cross.
So, everyone, be sure to check out some of his work on Amazon, give a few dollars to his Patreon and if you are so inclined and be sure to chip in a few dollars to his Kickstarter. As of writing this article it still has a long way to reach its goal and I would like to see the latest issues of The Red Knight released before the end of the year.
Trey Griffeth is the Head Writer of The Nerd Hub's Comic Book Spotlight section as well as a contributing writer to Video Game Spotlight. In addition to his work with The Nerd Hub, he is also a Staff Writer for Heroic Hollywood.