Back in 2009 I interviewed writer Caryn A. Tate about her webcomic, Red Plains. More recently she has decided to go the digital route with the Red Plains property. She was kind enough to recently do an email interview on the recent creative and logistical decisions she’s made regarding the series. My thanks for her time. Here is how the site is described: “Red Plains is more than a simple ‘shoot-em-up’. Influenced by film noir, the classic pulps, true crime, and, most importantly, the authentic Western lifestyle and history as lived and researched by its author, Red Plains is the real deal.”
Tim O’Shea: What was the final benefit to you that spurred your decision to explore digital distribution as an avenue for Red Plains?
Caryn A. Tate: The main reason I decided to go digital with Red Plains is simple. I love the book and I love its readers, and releasing Red Plains in a wide-spread, easy to access format like this was the best way to get these stories into people’s hands where they can read and enjoy it. The print publishing environment is filled with obstacles to independent work and the market just isn’t a healthy one right now for new titles or creators. I wanted to be sure that fans of the book can continue to read it no matter what device they prefer, and that we can attract new readers to it by offering it at an attractive price. Like, say, free for the first issue of each storyline!
O’Shea: You released the first issue of “Range War,” and first issues of subsequent storylines, for FREE, and that’s including bonus content – audio commentary by you, as well as additional art, character information and script excerpts. Have you seen an increased response since offering a chapter for free? What was the most fun or interesting aspects of recording the audio commentaries?
Tate: Yeah, we’ve definitely seen a great response already, and I’m sure it has a lot to do with those free first issues. Who doesn’t like free? The relationship between a creator and their audience is a delicate one, and I feel strongly that it’s the creator’s or publisher’s responsibility to extend a hand in good faith that show why their creation is worth the audience’s time, money, and, hopefully, emotional investment. So that’s why I made the decision to offer the first issue of each storyline for free. For upcoming stories that are only 1 or 2 issues long, we’ll be offering a nice sized free preview of the first issue for free, so that it’s still easy for folks to take a look and see if this story is for them.
The audio commentaries are a blast to record! I think the best thing about it is that I really feel like I’m just sitting down having a conversation with the readers of Red Plains, and I can finally tell them all about the creative process for each issue. Being a writer – I think any creator really, but especially a writer – is a pretty lonely job, one that is done alone, and we often don’t get to talk to readers in person to discuss what went into different stories or if they caught this detail or that one. So having the chance to have that conversation, however one-sided in this case, is pretty awesome!
Also I just really enjoy sitting down and re-reading Red Plains storylines. I sometimes get pretty tickled when I’m doing the commentaries and I think you can hear it in my voice!
O’Shea: Did you enjoy the Coen Brothers’ True Grit – or is that the kind of Western story you try to avoid crafting with Red Plains?
Tate: I really enjoyed their version of True Grit! Initially when I heard the film was being remade, I wasn’t interested, but then I saw that the Coen Brothers were directing and it had great actors in it, so I relented, and I’m glad I did. Honestly I enjoyed their version a whole lot more than the original. I’m a John Wayne fan and everything, but I never cared for the original film much. It wasn’t bad, it’s just that it wasn’t to my liking…as I’ve said many a time, I’m extremely picky with my western films, books, etc., and I would go so far as to say I’m a really tough audience for anyone making a western of any kind. So when I say I enjoyed the new True Grit, that’s saying a lot!
And no, I wouldn’t say that’s the kind of story I try to avoid with Red Plains. It all depends on execution. With Red Plains, the artists and I are careful to always portray the West as it really was – in all its glory and its horror. We don’t subscribe to any tropes that have been so unfortunately established in the mainstream for so many years. We respect the genre and the world. The characters are strong and real, with definite personalities and traits and flaws, and all of us working on the book do our damnedest to create a world that’s as real as can be while still providing a really fun, adventurous bang for your buck, so to speak.
O’Shea: What can you tell folks about the recent Christmas storyline and how long did it run? Given the noir tinge to your tales, how hard is it to mix a holiday story with noir?
Tate: It’s called “Christmastime is Here” and features breathtaking art by Gary Fitzgerald, who has worked on Red Plains before (on “Some Kind of Closure” and “The Scurvy”) and I was very happy to have him back for this tale. We released it in two parts in the month of December on Top Shelf 2.0, and I’m really proud of it. I think it’s a great example of what makes Red Plains unusual, for a western but really just in general. Despite the types of stories I normally write, I really enjoy the occasional sweet holiday movie, or book, and the idea of transplanting that kind of story into Red Plains was too tempting to resist! “Christmastime is Here” focuses on several folks in town and how they’re celebrating the holidays – including Sheriff Doles, Doug Stevens and the cowboys of the Devil’s Hed, the Escovidos, and a couple of relatively new characters we’ve only heard mention of previously. Of course, the story is probably not as peaceful and serene as the title would lead you to believe.
I actually didn’t find it hard to mix a holiday story with noir at all. With genres that I live and breathe, like noir and westerns, it’s become second nature to play around with different ideas and twists on people’s expectations. Certainly, when I’m writing a completely different kind of story I’ll draw on other influences and take completely different approaches, but for any Red Plains story, it’s there in my head all the time – whatever tale I’m working on, I’m already seeing all of the shadows, the murder, the lies, the deceit, in the background – and how it all fits in the grand scheme of things. It’s just a matter of figuring out how the characters find out about it!
Adding the Christmas theme was just a matter of focusing on a wide array of different characters (which is the norm for Red Plains) – so while that character may be dealing with some really dark, noir-ish stuff, this character here is actually having a traditional, peaceful, pleasant holiday. Basically you could say that with those characters I tried to show how everyone’s holiday should be, and over here with the dark stuff we see what happens when people get in the way of that.
Since the new year started we’ve continued with a different story called “How Jackson Spent his Summer Vacation,” with art by Patrick Bezanson, that features one of our main characters, Jackson Stevens, in prison. He’s been out of play since the end of “Range War” and while we’ve had mentions of him here and there this is story where we finally see what’s become of him since then and get a glimpse into where he’s going. It’s a lot of fun and definitely shows an aspect of the West that most of us aren’t accustomed to seeing – prison!
O’Shea: What are the plans for Red Plains in 2011?
Tate: We’re releasing more stories for sale digitally – we’ve just recently released “Nice Place to Raise Your Kids Up” with art by Larry Watts – that storyline is a huge one for the series, a big turning point in a way. We have a ton of extra content on those issues that really make each installment an exciting package.
On top of that we have a digital exclusive story we just released, called Mi Amor, and it’s with a brand new artist, Mike D. Kim. I can only begin to tell you how excited I am about this story and how great it is for folks to finally get to see Mike’s gorgeous artwork. The story is honestly one of my favorites thus far. It’s a stand alone tale, really action packed, and features Luis Escovido – and it gives you a lot of insight into this man’s character.
Plus we have a story coming up later in the year that is a huge milestone for me since I’ve been planning it for a couple of years now. It features the return of a favorite but infamous character that we haven’t seen in Red Plains for a while. Stay tuned!
O’Shea: Looking at your website, I’m curious to find out more about Sunny Bear’s Rainy Day–where are you at in the planning stages for that project?
Tate: Well the book is long since done, so it’s all a matter of re-releasing it! It’s been out of print for a few years now, and it’s definitely on my to do list this year to release it in a digital format so that we can get it back into the hands of kids wanting fun books featuring bears (always my favorite animal, next to horses, of course). And with the younger generations now being almost completely digital minded, I think releasing Sunny Bear in that format is perfect.