Doug Ernst: Battling for the Soul of Comics

 

Doug Ernst has been offering “bare-knuckle commentary mixed with pop culture” on the web for nearly a decade. He’s one of the earliest publicizers of the increasingly unprofessional and insulting behavior of many comic book creators employed by Marvel Comics. Doug has not been afraid to confront that ugliness, but he does so with calculation. Doug’s a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance, He believes seeing oneself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. His day job is being a writer for The Washington Times, but in his off time, when he isn’t making videos on his popular Youtube channel, he’s started a new writing endeavor… comics.

 

I recently chatted with Doug about what got him hooked on comics, what his perspective is on the current culture surrounding them, and how he is currently producing his own comic.

 

Chris Braly: What are your earliest memories of comic books? 

Doug Ernst: My oldest brother used to read the Amazing Spider-Man and Iron Man to me on an ugly green chair when I was only a few years old. I literally learned how to read on a lot of the great ’80s books. I think the first Spidey book I asked for in a grocery store was Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #101. I still love that black and white cover. That was a time when I was also playing with the Marvel “Secret Wars” action figures, which my brother also would buy me. I have great memories associated with Marvel in my youth.

 

Chris: I consider you to be one of the early “town criers” in comicdom. You started noticing very poor behavior of comic book pros in regards to disrespecting the fans and messing with the lore of comics nearly a decade ago and began sharing that with the rest of the fandom. You were also one of the original reporters of the ComicsGate movement. How did you discover the ugly side of the comics profession and what prompted you to start blogging about it?  

Doug: I started writing on the intersection of politics and popular culture at douglasernst.blog in early 2010 because the job I had at the time restricted me from speaking on certain issues. I’d begun to find my comments over at the Marvel boards going down ‘Orwellian Memory Holes’ and I was banned for tactfully sharing what amounted to ‘Marvel Thoughtcrime’. That behavior by the moderators, coupled with the unprofessional and downright jerkish antics by certain Marvel employees, prompted me to start writing more on the culture surrounding the industry. My coverage of The Amazing Spider-Man attracted a humbling amount of blog subscribers, although at some point in time I determined it was necessary to reach a broader audience. That’s when I made the switch to YouTube and a network of alienated customers formed.

 

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CB:   Do you feel as if your reporting, along with the attention brought to it by other like-minded supporters, has had any positive impact on comicdom?

Doug: First and foremost I try and tell people the truth on any given issue. I may make mistakes and get things wrong, but I’ve always tried to call ‘balls’ and ‘strikes’ in ways that I didn’t see happening with other mainstream comic news websites. I’m operating under the assumption that by trying to tell the truth on any given issue, the outcome is a “positive” for those affected by my commentary. Am I fallible? Of course. Overall, however, I will defend my track record for standing up for consumers in an industry riddled with cronyism, unprofessionalism, and mean-spirited propaganda masquerading as the same “Mighty Marvel Comics” that readers like me experienced growing up in the ’80s and ’90s. 

CB:   A noble cause indeed. Let’s shift gears for a bit. I understand you’re launching your own comic book project, Soulfinder: Demon’s Match via Indiegogo crowdfunding in a couple of weeks. What inspired this decision?

Doug: I’ve known since my youth for whatever reason that writing was my vocation. I’ve been blessed for many years to get paid to write, but the movement that became known as “Comicsgate” or Team Comics or Indie Comics — whatever people want to call it these days — gave me an opportunity to tell the story of Father Patrick Retter in Soulfinder: Demon’s Match. I’d say the seeds for this particular tale took root in 2017. Interestingly enough, I was thinking about the villain I would create for Peter Parker if I were the guy penning his adventures. I was explaining the Soulfinder blueprint to Timothy Lim one night and it turned out that he had a very similar idea for a G.I. JOE character when he was a kid. I guess we both took that as a good sign to team up on the project!

CB: Synchronicity is a very good sign! What else can you tell our readers about Soulfinder: Demon’s Match?

Doug: Soulfinder: Demon’s Match is about a major order of exorcists who take on levels of evil that most of the world — including most priests — cannot fathom. Only those who have seen the horrors of war and came out with their faith intact are recruited. This story is about Father Patrick Retter’s recruitment into the order by a Vietnam veteran named Father Reginald “Reggie” Crane. These men, along with a police officer named Gregory Chua, investigate a series of seemingly connected deaths in the fictional town of Steepleton, Maryland.

 

 

 

CB: Sounds fascinating! I know you’re Catholic, but will this comic also appeal to agnostics or readers of other faiths?

Doug: One of the things that made me happy after showing the first draft to Tim was his reaction that it was informed by faith, but not preachy. The book in many ways is about the virtue to be found in bearing our individual crosses with grace and dignity. I tried to write it with enough layers where readers will get what they want out of it. If someone only wants to read it for the horror and mystery and psychological elements, then great. If they want to tease out deeper religious themes and messages, then cool. What I didn’t want to do was beat someone over the head with a ham-fisted message or needlessly make them uncomfortable for not adhering to a specific set of religious beliefs. The book in many ways has a stronger focus on fathers, the importance of having good male role models, and brotherhood.

 

CB: Tell me about your creative team.

Doug: I couldn’t have been blessed with a better group of guys for this project! Timothy Lim of books like Black Hops, My Hero Magademia, Thump: The First Bundred Days, and Trump’s Space Force has blown me away with his work. There are pages where I feel as though he somehow was granted access to my mind’s eye. He’s been amazing. Brett R. Smith, as most of your readers know, has decades in the industry under his belt. He’s also attached to the New York Times bestselling Clinton Cash: A Graphic Novel.  Finally, Dave Dorman did our covers. Every time I heard his name I see his work on Star Wars: Dark Empire in my mind.

 

CB: That’s some strong talent! So what’s been your process from idea to finished product?

Doug: Everyone involved leads busy lives, which is why on some level I see it as a minor miracle that any collaborative projects get done! There are a lot of moving parts, so I wrote the script as time allowed and then turned it over to Tim and some trusted friends in late 2018. Tim had other projects to work on, which allowed us to keep refining the script. He sent pages along to Brett as he finished and then those were colored as soon as possible. We also gave Dave a lot of lead time since there is plenty of demand for his talents. In short: Everyone was on the same page about taking as many potential issues as possible off the table before we launched the campaign.

CB: What are you hoping to accomplish with this comic, Soulfinder?

Doug: I wanted to write something that people will keep on their shelf, appreciate for years, and reread from time to time. I wanted to write something where customers close the book and know, perhaps on some subconscious level, that on many levels I care about them, the culture as a whole, and future generations. I don’t really care if that sounds cheesy. I can’t speak for the other guys and their motivations, but I can tell you that everyone gave 110%.

 

 

CB: A lot of indie creators have been jumping into the crowdfunding game lately. What approach are you taking that you believe will help ensure your success from kick-off to final delivery?

Doug: I guess it all depends on how one defines “success.” Some people are very concerned about making money. Some people are fixated on a certain modicum of fame. For me, work is a virtue. I did my best and I know the guys did their best, and now we’re releasing this little bird out into the world. I hope it soars. No matter what happens, there will be important lessons learned. The book should be ready to ship this summer after the campaign ends. I suppose if you forced me to answer the “success” question, I’d say that will come if my subscribers say they enjoyed the product.

 

CB: If this is a “success”, do you have more ideas and do you plan on continuing this story or perhaps launching something altogether new?

Doug: I definitely have more Soulfinder stories to tell, and I’d like to do so with the current creative team if their schedules allow for it. One of the great things about having a priest as my main character is that he can be sent anywhere in the world. My characters are also combat veterans, which creatively opens up a number of story possibilities. There are some Indiana Jones-ish tales to be told for sure.

 

 

CB: I like the sound of that! Back to the current state of the comic industry, what do you see in the near future if the big publishers continue on the path they’ve been on? And do you see any hope for positive change?

Doug: Marvel has already farmed out some work on its key IPs (intellectual properties) to IDW Publishing. That appears to be a harbinger of things to come as far as they’re concerned. Customers have been telling Marvel for years what the problem is, and its top brass and creators have decided to dig in their heels in defense of unprofessionalism and partisan politics shoehorned into books. I think the positive change you’re asking about here is in terms of the excitement for independent comics. That’s where you find creators who aren’t shackled by the fear that they might run afoul of the Mighty Marvel Thought Police on a given title. This crop of independent creators doesn’t give a rip if the mainstream comic websites finger wag them over an editorial decision. I would encourage more people create their own IPs instead of trying to shine industry gatekeeper boots for years in the hopes of falling into their fickle favor. 

 

 

CB: Well said. What do you think is the biggest complaint the big publishers could address that might do the most good for the industry if they addressed it?

Doug: The guys in charge have tied themselves into so many knots that it’s really hard to tell them where to begin at this point. Perhaps they can start with something that is, theoretically, easy — perhaps not inventing phantom political menaces and then filling their ranks with long-time customers who want solid art and solid storytelling? 

 

CB: They’ve really created a difficult problem for themselves, haven’t they? What else would you like to let our readers know?

Doug: I’d like to reiterate: Everyone involved in this project left it all on the field. I couldn’t be prouder of Tim, Brett, and Dave for all their hard work and dedication. I hope Soulfinder: Demon’s Match does right by everyone who has followed my writing and YouTube videos for years.

 

CB: When does the campaign for Soulfinder: Demon’s Match kick-off?

Doug: June 14th on Indiegogo!

 

CB: We’re rooting for you and your team,Doug. Keep up the good work, and fighting the good fight!

 

For more bare-knuckle commentary on comics and pop culture, check out Doug’s blog at douglasernst.blog
and be on the lookout for Soulfinder: Demon’s Match coming to Indiegogo in mid-June!

Chris Braly

Chris Braly

I'm a collector, a speculator, and one opinionated, based geek. My friends call me Braly, but those who know me within the hobby generally refer to me as Bralinator. I can be heard monthly on the Comic Book Page Previews Spotlight podcast with several other comic book nerds. Follow me on Twitter @ChrisBraly

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