Faction: All About Kiwi Comics

02:08, Oct 04 2013

New comics anthology Faction is a rarity in New Zealand. Not only is it independently produced by New Zealanders with Kiwi talent, it's shiny, full-colour and unapologetically professional.

The first Faction was launched at the start of this year after a long-running funding campaign on the crowd-funding platform PledgeMe, and the second issue came out last month.

Digital copies are free to download at Faction's website:

I decided I had to hear more about this publication after buying a copy of each issue on a whim, and being blown away by the quality.

I spoke with artist Damon Keen, who co-edits the title with Amie Maxwell about the work, the creative process and the "talented bastards" behind it all.

I've noticed in grassroots New Zealand comics there is a lot of that ziney, black and white, homemade kind of aesthetic going on. There's not too much that's big and shiny like Faction out there.
That was really our niche. We wanted to do something different. The technology is there, it's not as expensive as it used to be and no-one else is really doing it. It's no way of making money but from an artistic point of view it's very satisfying to be doing this.
I guess the shiny market is still dominated by Marvel and DC here.I think the reason a lot of Kiwi comics are black and white and homemade is because from a budget point of view, that's do-able.
If you're a starving artist, getting your work out there is - well, you do what you can.
There's the internet version of that but a lot of artists I know seem to want to get their work into print as well.


Do you think that means Kiwi artists still tend to dream small?
 I think artists naturally dream quite large, even if the reality doesn't always emerge. The reality of the situation here is that there's no industry [in New Zealand] for comics so people have to start doing it themselves.

Even guys like Ant Sang and Tim Gibson? They are fabulously talented.
God, yes. I would suspect, well I know, that they have to do other kinds of work as well to support what they do.
Tim just received a grant recently that allows him to put a lot of time into [webcomic] Moth City and the results of that are there to see. He's produced something beautiful, he's managed to find the time to do the artwork and get people into it, and it's because he's been given the luxury - or rather, he went out and got the luxury - of being able to work on his comic for some months.
I'd say 99 per cent of the comic artists out there have got to hold down their normal day job and then they'll go home at night to work on their secret passion.

Craftsmanship takes time.
Totally. There's other areas in the arts where people in New Zealand do get recognition and there's the option of maybe getting a little bit more recompense but really, the other arts are not huge and comics is even more invisible than those arts. That's what Faction is about, I suppose, trying to make it more visible.

So you're into the second edition now. How's it going?

Good. It's a lot of work getting it out, but actually the hardest thing in a lot of ways is distribution and getting people to know it exists.

Have you been able to keep that marketing buzz going on after the first issue?
Definitely. I'm no expert in this, I'm a creative myself so I struggle with doing that. The admin, the behind-the-scenes stuff, getting your product out there, but it has to be done.We're learning. It's such a learning experience, a real experiment. We are trying to create a market for something when there isn't much of a market for it in New Zealand.

Do you think you'll need to dip back into PledgeMe for funding or is it rolling along OK now?
The first issue has paid for the second issue, more or less, with a little bit of input from myself. We are hoping to raise more money from the second issue but we are starting to think about going for a grant.
My vision and, I think, Amie's vision is that it's kind of a comic version of Landfall. Something that would be supported because it's reaching out to a community that doesn't really receive a lot of funding and there's an awful lot of talent in there.
It'll be a resource and a place for artists to go and be inspired.
It's certainly not hugely financially viable in the long term but it's a really interesting time to be in comics because of the whole digital revolution.

Your distribution model is quite interesting as well, with digital copies available for free and then print versions for those who want to pay for them. How is that working out?
It's a total experiment. I haven't really noticed the number of print versions being impacted by the digital version. It was always going to be the two together because me and Amie had the idea for Faction not long after I got my first iPad and the realisation was that the tablet was revolutionary from a comics point of view. It was just a paradigm-shifter.[Regarding the free copies] we thought "Look, you can pirate this thing anyway." We were only ever going to sell a certain number [of copies], especially to start with, and we wanted to get new readers so people know Faction exists. We can't build up a market unless we get that.
Both of us felt that there's a market for both digital and print. I think this goes for coffee-table books, beautiful books as well.
I only recently made the switch to preferring reading my novels on the iPad. It was a whole lot of little things.
To me, there's no real difference. If I'm reading on the iPad I can check a word I don't know, turn the lights out and just sort of drop the iPad as I fall asleep, I can find new books on the internet. It's all just very, very pleasant.
But I would never read a coffee-table book on my tablet and when I'm reading a comic on the iPad if I really like it, if I respond to it, I'll always go and buy the print version. I want that art object, which is what a lot of comics actually are if you think about it.

This is probably familiar to you, but I find myself in a lot of conversations with people who loved comics as children. They're amazed to find out that sophisticated comics for adults do exist, and I tell them to start with Art Spiegelman's "Maus", Alan Moore's "Watchmen" and Dylan Horrocks' "Hicksville". Can you add any good beginners' titles to that list?
I tend to ask people what they like. If they say they like crime, I tell them to read  "Stumptown" by Greg Rucka, or "Criminal" by Ed Brubaker.
I might also bring up New Zealand authors, one of my all-time favourites is Ant Sang's "Dharma Punks". For a lot of people it's their favourite New Zealand comic but hardly anyone's read it.
If you like weirder stuff, there's the "Frank" comics by Jim Woodring. They're really surreal, they have this dreamlike quality. For children, I've just found "Hilda and the Midnight Giant" by Luke Pearson. It's such a quirky, lovely little book.