Michael Critzer (aka “Professor Geek”) is not only a regular contributor to this website, but he is also a creator of his own. An accomplished writer and long-time Youtube personality, Michael is the author of the book Heroic Inspirations, an exploration of superhero stories and the life lessons we can draw from them. Michael’s short fiction regularly appears in a number of literary magazines and genre anthologies and as a cultural studies scholar, he has presented at academic conferences on the cultural and psychological roles superheroes play in our society. Michael is also the ‘Professor Geek’ behind the so named YouTube channel and one of the hosts of Superman Lives, and a host on the geek-centric podcast Holy Roman Fanboys: The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth.
When he isn’t writing or waxing on about comic books and popular culture, Michael teaches writing, rhetoric and American literature in Central Virginia.
His most recent endeavor is to take his love for comic books to the next level and create his own. With artist Dave T, he is doing just that. The two have launched an Indiegogo campaign recently for Tales from the Stacks, an 60 page, black & white, anthology comic that features “3 uncanny tales presented by The Librarian. Sneak into the tent of an exotic dancer with 2 curious boys, help defend a young woman’s family home from small-town witch hunters and stalk an enchanting burlesque singer with a mysterious guardian.” Dave T, a formerly trained artist and loyal member of the Comicsgate community, who was also looking to make his comic debut partnered with Michael on the book and together they seek to offer readers a graphic novel that will thrill and haunt them over for multiple readings.
I spoke to Michael recently about the project and his plans for it.
JA: You’ve written short fiction for years and on your Youtube channel you’ve reviewed dozens and dozens of comics, not only from mainstream publishers, but even indie creators. What prompted you to finally do your own comic?
MC: I’ve published a non-fiction book and around ten short fiction stories in various anthologies and literary magazines. I’ve always wanted to write a comic as well, but the industry was always too hard to break into. Then the current climate produced ComicsGate and the viability of the Indiegogo platform. Doors began to open for new creators, so I eagerly stepped though one.
JA: What do you think your fondness for comics stems from?
MC: As a child, I was fascinated with fairy tales and adventure stories, but I struggled with reading. Teachers sent me to summer school and special tutors as I continued to fall behind. Then Tim Burton’s Batman 89 hit theaters, and I was caught up in the historic Bat-mania. I began to read every comic book I could lay my hands on. Decades later, I’m a literature professor, a writer, and a cultural studies scholar specializing in superheroes.
JA: What’s your “elevator pitch” for Tales from the Stacks?
MC: A ‘Mysterious Old Librarian’ beckons you into the dark, inner stacks of the library and presents you with three tales of the uncanny: Three boys sneak into the tent of an exotic sideshow dancer and learn the price of mystery. Two young women must defend their home, and dead grandmother, from small town witch hunters. And a young man stalks a burlesque performer with otherworldly appeal.
JA: I’m intrigued! The crowdfunding campaign was completely fulfilled in less than a week. What’s been your reaction to the rapid response of your supporters?
MC: I’m thrilled, obviously. I’m also relieved, since you really do lay your pride on the line, hoping people will think that you’re worth supporting. And finally I feel validated for all the time and energy I’ve sunk into my YouTube channel over the years, as it has proved to be my best marketing tool.
JA: Can you tell me a bit more about the comic and what lies within? Is there any meta-context or commentary you can share about the narratives?
MC: Tales from the Stacks is an anthology series in the tradition of The Twilight Zone,Tales from the Darkside, and Tales from the Crypt. I grew up on those late night reruns, and when I began writing my own fiction, it came out naturally in that form. I’ve studied and lectured on the power of the short and profound tale. Edgar Allan Poe called it the Unity of Effect, the power of a story, short enough to be read in one setting, with the language, tone, and events all working together to affect the reader. The three stories in Tales from the Stacks are stand alone tales, but they share the theme of coming of age and sexual awakening in the context of genre fiction. Each tale comes from my MFA Creative Thesis and has been published as prose in various places, but I’m excited to offer them now in graphic narrative form.
JA: I watched all those same shows. Loved them. Tell me how the collaboration with Dave T came about.
MC: I was extremely luck to find Dave. Every artist I approached was already working with someone, usually Nasser. I continued to search Twitter for the terms “artist” and “Comicsgate” and eventually came across Dave. I first saw his amazing “Monsters of ComicsGate” piece then checked out his YouTube channel. I knew he’d be perfect for Tales from the Stacks. He ended up being available and unattached, but looking to break into comics himself.
JA: Several comic creators have struggled to get to the fulfillment stage of the crowdfunded projects. Are you taking notes and how are you preparing for the various challenges now that you’ve reached the fully funded stage?
MC: I credit my YouTube channel and the community of subscribers I’ve built up first and foremost. Building trust and respect with a fanbase is the most important thing any creator can do. In the process, I found a place in the greater ComicsGate creator community as well, and those connections allowed me to procure variant covers from other exceptional artists like Keung Lee, Jon Malin, and Kyle Ritter. Having their names attached to the campaign has been a big help. New challenges do appear at every step of a campaign, though. Each marketing tactic will eventually exhaust the prospects in a given audience, and then you must figure out how to reach another one.
JA: Do you see bringing in additional artists, writers, colorists if you decide to continue with this anthology style comic?
MC: Maybe. I’d definitely like to do a volume two of Tales from the Stacks. I have more stories to tell in this vein, but I’m also eager to work on my superhero comic. So maybe bringing in other creators could help me do both. I’ll have to see how it all plays out.
JA: You’ve been a long-time contributor to Bleeding Fool, and we know you’re a ComicsGate supporter. What about that customer movement (some call it a ‘customer revolt’) do you appreciate or commiserate with?
MC: I think the most groundbreaking aspect of ComicsGate is the YouTube platform that places creators in direct contact with their readers. On Twitter, comic pros try to preach and prescribe what readers should want from comics, but Comicsgate on YouTube allows fans to tell creators what they do want.
JA: How are you juggling creating videos, your writing, and this crowdfund with your personal and work life?
MC: I’m still looking for the magic formula there. Maintaining a YouTube channel takes a great deal of time. Add that to teaching classes and raising a special needs child while running an Indiegogo, and sleep becomes a fleeting luxury. I did plan the campaign to launch during this spring semester, when my teaching load is light. I also chose the fall for the delivery date, giving me and Dave the entire summer, when I’m not teaching at all, to wrap things up. I’ve found that scheduling and planning is just as important as marketing when it comes to a successful campaign.
JA: I think that’s a wise move. Hopefully people will get on board and back this campaign so you can do even more of these anthology books. They’re my favorite kind of comic. Thanks for the chat, Professor Geek!
Comic geek, movie nerd, father, and husband - but not necessarily in that order. Current captain of this ship o' fools who is rapidly training everyone's computers and snarkphone spell-checkers to misspell 'supposebly.'