Tell us a little about yourself and your background? (Where are you from, where you grew up, when did you start writing and drawing comics?)
My existence began in a sleepy little town called Harrodsburg here in good ole Kentucky. That’s where I grew up, save for a few months here and there. I was fortunate to be raised around good, hard working folks who were pretty supportive in my creativity whether it be music or art.
I started writing short stories in probably 10th grade, my first short story was called “Haiga” and morphed over time into the first draft of what would become my current tale, “Araura”. I’ve been drawing everything from monsters to Batman and Transformers pretty much all my life, from as early as I can remember but didn’t really start learning the craft of drawing comics until college.
Your comic Araura, where did you come up with the idea and what drove you to want to create this book?
I wrote a short story called “Haiga” when I was about 15, it centered around a powerful woman who could summon spirits and elementals to aid the people of this world called Sereth. That short story became the foundation for what would eventually turn into “Araura”. The idea was always to make it a fantasy series with many characters that people could relate to and get behind. As far as where the idea CAME from? MANY places, haha. Whenever I would see something I found visually or thematically fascinating, I would find ways to incorporate how those influences affected me as a creator into the story as I wrote it.
Talk more about Araura, explain to the audience what it is about. Is this an ongoing series?
Absolutely! Araura (uh-rohr-uh) is a tale about a world that has basically lost its guiding light. Araura was a floating continent, inhabited by the Araurans, that would help maintain peace throughout the world of Sereth. One night about 20 years prior to the beginning of the story it disappeared in one night and no one has a clue as to what happened to it. A surviving Arauran has been found in a place called The Darklands and her name is Anea. She was being escorted to the Kingdom of Burgonne (bur-gohn) when her caravan was attacked by an assassin, only her and a few knights survived. Now, she has to rely on a young vagabond named Renzia to get her safely to Burgonne. Which may prove difficult because Renzia is, how shall we say, seemingly overbilling his abilities just a bit. Renzia is in it for the money the job is supposedly paying, well at first anyways.
Yes, this is an ongoing series. I am currently releasing a twenty-four page chapter every 2-3 weeks.
The art style in Araura is Anime, why did you want to draw in this style as opposed to a more traditional comic style? Is there a reason you chose to pursue this style when it came to honing your artistic skills?
Yeah, I grew up a DC kid but I was always into stuff like Transformers, Voltron, Battle of the Planets and what not. Vampire Hunter D was actually the first anime I ever saw as a kid, my Dad rented it as a bootleg from one of the local Harrodsburg movie rental places back in the day (I think it was called Pic-A-Flick or Film Factory) anyway, memories, haha. I remembered watching that and instantly being mesmerized. I always loved how the eyes showed so much emotion and the stories and characters were so colorful and well thought out. When I really started to pursue making comics in/after college I had a decision to make as far as art style. Really, the manga style is where my heart was and as I began laying out the character designs and hammering out the look of everything it just naturally came out that way, so I thought, “Why fight it?”. Ya know?
If your comic Araura were to make it big, what would you do next?
Well first I would put out more Araura because I would be doing it as a full time job and could crank out a whole chapter every week! Haha! (You have the power to make this happen people! Just kidding!… But f’real) After finishing Araura I want to move on to some of the other stories I have laid out. I have a horror story that is under wraps right now that I am just itching to get to!
When it comes to publishing, what are some of the biggest problems you have run into?
There are certainly a few. I think first and foremost is printing, circulation. Most people don’t have five thousand to eight thousand dollars to spend on printing mass quantities of books right outta the gate, let alone marketing and exposure and I was certainly no different starting out. I had to always shop for deals, assemble my books myself and THEN I had to try and get people to listen to me ramble on about my little epic when really they were just trying to get to the comic shop and grab the next Walking Dead or Marvel summer event title. So definitely getting the money to get the professional looking books and getting the word out was a problem for me at first.
I have to say I get a great deal of joy from both honestly. When you’re writing a script for a chapter and you pen a line for a character that really just nails that character or moment, or when you’re drawing and you get a smirk or building/skyline exactly as you envisioned it in the script. Both are equally as satisfying.
As far as which do I think is harder? Writing. For sure. No Joke. HAHA! There comes a point if you write a story with a lot of characters that you realize, “Oh God, I have HOW many characters now? And they ALL have to have a uniqueness to them?!”, that can be a little intimidating at first. But the challenge is what makes you a better creator, am I right?
When I decided I wanted to create a comic I had to find and hire an artist, so I was basically at the mercy of him. You have done all the work for Araura yourself, this is very time consuming. How do you manage to keep pushing forward? I can remember many days when I thought about throwing in the towel for a variety of reasons and I was not doing that much of the work. This must be more difficult when all the work is on your shoulders.
HAHA! You’re right! It’s extremely time consuming and there are nights where I want to back away from the computer or drawing table and go to bed because I also have a regular full time job as well. For me though, I just push through. It also helps that I have a wife who is understanding of my need to create and she shares my vision of what this story will be as well.
What drives me is knowing whether it’s one person or one million (hey, a guy can dream) that are reading Araura, they’re counting on me to deliver a story they care about to entertain them every other Friday… or however quickly I can get them out.
I have mixed opinions when it comes to comic cons. From what I have seen this is not necessarily a place where people come to see and pick up a creator owned comic, at least that is the impression I got at the con I attended. Can you talk a little about your experience with cons and your advice if you have any?
I can totally relate to that. As I said earlier one of the big problems I had early on was getting people to just check out the story. Comic conventions can be a scary place for a new creator, especially when eighty percent of the people paid thirty to fifty dollars to get in and they have one or two guests they specifically want to see in most cases.
One experience comes to mind, I was at LCTC (Lexington Comic and Toy Convention in Lexington, KY) this past year, my first Araura trade paperback was hot off the presses and I was excited! Well, most of the people were there to meet a lot of celebrity guests and I was surrounded on all sides by IMMENSELY talented creators. When it comes to talented creators, Lexington, KY has an embarrassment of riches which has made me as a creator better, but it can be frustrating for a creator trying to get their book out as well! Long story short, the first few hours I couldn’t GIVE a copy away. I was frustrated, Day 1 sales weren’t that great and I was getting down on myself. Well, at some point during day 2 a young guy came by with a few friends and he pointed out Araura, “Yeah, there it is.” he said as he walked up. He picked up the trade, I talked with him about the story for a few minutes and that was that. I instantly felt better and the rest of my convention was a huge success. It wasn’t always like that though. You have to be thick skinned sometimes and deal with being “in the red” after a show. Especially if you’re selling a book no one’s heard of. In the end though, I feel like if you love your story and are passionate about it that will ALWAYS show through. That kind of energy is infectious and people will be drawn to your story.
My advice would be to simply stay excited and positive for your story when you’re selling it to people and the readers will definitely come. Rather than big comic cons, look for small press shows, indie specific comic cons and book fairs. People are always looking for new stories at these events and they may be just the thing a creator may need for getting a new book in circulation!
When it comes to marketing what strategy has worked best for you? This is by far the one aspect of creating comics that I did not take into account when I started down this road. Having the idea and seeing it through to completion is nice, but once you get a finished product in some respects the real journey is just beginning.
I took a local approach starting out. I had this philosophy of “How can I get my story out on a regional, national or even global level if I can’t make it sell in my own town?”. So I would set up at local comic book shops, set up tables out in public where there were people walking about, shopping and what not, hitting conventions, book fairs, anywhere that I could talk about my book with someone looking for a great new tale to dive into. After that, I used what money I was making on selling the books locally to put toward print on demand places for high quality looking books, then I got on Kindle and Amazon, started pushing social media and getting the word out there. As you said in your question, marketing your book is a journey and I feel like I’m still just trying to get out of the village! HAHA!
I have an online store where I sell digital copies of my chapters and physical copies of collected volumes and have enjoyed great success there. Also tried outlets like Gumroad and Storenvy but didn’t find those to be very effective. I just got Araura on Amazon and Kindle and that has been going extremely well for me. I’ve submitted Araura to Comixology but have heard that their turnaround times can be very long. Because of their guided view formatting I would think, which I love.
Coming from a small town certainly makes things more difficult for a variety of reasons. I am also from a small town in Kentucky, but some of the most famous and successful comic creators is from a small Town in Kentucky. That’s right the creators of Walking Dead are from Richmond Kentucky. With that being said it is not impossible to make it big, but I think there is a certain degree of luck that goes along with success. What do you think?
For sure! And yeah those guys are from Richmond, about 45 minutes down I-75! I actually met Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley at a comic shop in Lexington years ago, they were promoting Walking Dead and Invincible and a good buddy of mine talked me into taking an early (like, not that good early) draft of Araura chapter one to Kirkman to check out, so I agreed and got excited to see what he thought. Never met someone that did that on that level and didn’t realize he would already have a stack of books to his left that other creators were wanting him to “check out”. Well, I get there, I buy Invincible’s first trade and as Ryan Ottley is drawing Omni Man on the inside cover, I’m handing Araura to Kirkman and saying something like, “Hey man, this is something I’m working pretty hard on and I’m passionate about. Love to know what you think”. Again, no idea how these things worked. Haha. So he has a snarky sense of humor, which is cool, I do too. He rolls his eyes at me, tosses Araura chapter one on a pile and says, “Sure I’ll get to that.”. He was being funny, but I got SO. MAD. HAHA! I looked at him and I have no idea now but I’m sure I looked super pissed and I just said real calm and low, “If you don’t want it…. then give it back.”, he was like, “Dude I’m just playing, I’ll check it out.”. Did he ever? The world may never know but I like to believe that Robert Kirkman has read Araura. Haha.
Anyways, yes I do believe that luck can play a major role in getting you as a creator or your story out there, making it big. But you have to have the passion and love for what you’re doing. That’s what keeps the pencil moving when the money isn’t coming in. I truly believe that equation is somewhere in the neighborhood of 40% talent + 50% hard work + 10% luck = MAKING IT BIG!
We are both aspiring comic creators, can you offer any advice to me or anyone else out there? What do you attribute your success or perhaps failures to along your journey? What has helped you the most to become successful?
That’s a fantastic question, I’ll start with what attributed to my failures. Certainly first and foremost, me. There are a myriad of excuses I’m sure but what it comes down to is me. I went through a point around 2012 where I was down on my work, didn’t feel it was good enough and felt I had reached my ceiling as a creator and that was it. I stopped producing, then would rewrite the opening chapters for Araura, redraw them over and over to the point where there were no new chapters forever and I had redrawn the first three chapters about four times each. I had to put all of that behind me, had to toughen up and get moving forward. Fortunately, I had some good friends that were supportive and got me back on track.
As far as the current success I am enjoying I would have to certainly say a lot is due to a better work ethic and desire to get better as a writer and an artist every single day. Also, my passion for the story I’m telling, my friends/family that are supportive and kinda cheering me on, but most of all my wife. She is incredible and completely supportive of all of my creative endeavors, and as I said earlier, she believes in the story I am telling with Araura and shares my vision of what this story will be.
What does the rest of 2016 hold for Ray Coffman? Are you working on anything new?
2016 is going to be a whirlwind of drawing, writing and promoting Araura, haha. I have about thirteen more chapters planned for this year as well as at least three more volumes that should be in print by year’s end.
As far as new stuff? There’s always stuff being pitched around and planned. I have talked with a few artists about getting them on some scripts I have written that I just can’t get to, one is a kinda tripy space opera and the other is a modern day zero to hero tale. So you may be seeing ramblings about those from me on social media in 2017! Be looking forward to it!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Sure! I’d like to say thanks for the interview, a BIG thank you to all of my Araura fans/readers out there! There is absolutely no way I could continue to pursue my passion and dream without all of your support so thank you so very much! Please be looking forward to the future releases! Check out new Araura chapters and catch up on the adventure at https://www.coffman20xxstore.com/collections/graphic-novels that’s my personal online store or you can get it through kindle and Amazon just go to Amazon.com and search for Araura Manga! You can check me and Araura out at these social media accounts:
Twitter: @ArauraOfficial Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/araura.official
Twitter: @Coffman20XX Instagram: Coffman20XX