Creator Journal: Ben Kahn - 'To me, comics are the medium of the impossible.'

This piece is the third of a monthly series giving nascent creators a chance to share and document part of their artistic journeys. We’ll be following four individuals—writers, artists, writers/artists—and spotlighting each on a rotating basis throughout 2019. Future installments will take more of a traditional journal format, giving creators a space to share thoughts and comics. For the intro, however, we’ll get to know each participant better through a question and answer.

With all that in mind, we’ll cede the space now to our third creator, Ben Kahn, a talented and fast-rising writer from New York City with a focus on comics. Ben has shared part of a great new series due out from SBI on Free Comic Book Day. Check back the last Friday of next month for a look at our next participant!

Q: Hi Ben! Thanks for being part of this feature...can we start by asking you to introduce yourself? Who you are, where you’re from, and maybe a bit about what your experience has been like so far within comics?

My name's Ben Kahn, I'm a writer based out of New York with a focus on comics. After some years in webcomics and video game design, I started my career as a published comic book writer when Shaman from Locust Moon Press came out in stores in 2015. Shaman was my first collaboration with Barcelona based artist Bruno Hidalgo. Our next work was Heavenly Blues, a mini-series published by Scout Comics from 2017 to 2018. And now I'm here to talk about Gryffen, our third series together.

Q: Let’s talk aspirations and motivations, which I think are key to the artistic journey for obvious reasons. What pushes you to make comics and where would you like it to ultimately take you?

To me, comics are the medium of the impossible. There's no budget holding you back, no special affects that don't look right; whatever you can imagine can go on the page. Comics are where I get to tell the stories I dream of. There's nothing better. I want to be making comics for the rest of my life. There's no shortage of stories to tell, characters to create, and genres to explore, and I want to get it all on the page.

Q: What is your creative routine like, especially especially as it might apply to balancing time for writing or drawing with any day job obligations, social life, or pressing family concerns?

So I work a full time job, so scheduling and prioritizing are key because time is so very much not on my side. I leave the house at 6:30am, I get back home at 6:30pm. My train ride to work is over an hour each way, so most of my work gets done on the commute. Then you work night and weekends, hopefully more on the weekends than at night. Between exercise, cooking, and spending time with my partner, there's not a ton of free time. But you do what you have to to get everything done, even if it creates more than a few late nights. I'm just the writer, so I'm able to burn the candle on both ends and make it work. The real legends are the artists, whose work is so much more laborious and time intensive.


Q: What are you working on in the short-term, and, looking ahead, what are some of your goals for the rest of 2019?

The big thing I'm working on is Gryffen. Most of the script for the series is written, but there's still plenty to write, and there will be mountains of art files to look over and prep. Then a lot of my time this year has been spent on something I can't talk about publicly yet, but once I can it'll be very cool. Then the rest of my time is spent working on new pitches. Pitching is a constant part of indie comic creator life. You gotta keep trying to put new stories out there. It can be a bit of a juggle switching mental tracks between so many projects, but its so much fun getting to play with different tones and genres at once.

Q: Where do you see yourself right now in terms of your overall career trajectory?

I'm really proud of the work I've done, and the work I've got coming out. I think I've got a good little place in indie comics publishing for the moment, and I want to keep that going and keep moving forward. There's new stories I'm working on that I think will really push me as a writer, so I'm hoping I'll get to bring those to fruition.

And then I'd love the chance to get to pitch for WFH (Work For Hire) projects. There are so many interesting characters and worlds to explore, I'd love to get my hands on some of them. Right now I'm keeping busy focusing on my own stories, but hey, who knows how things could go. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Q: Could you share one major triumph you’ve had so far as well as, conversely, one major challenge

Honestly every book I do feels like such a triumph. The amount time, energy and work it takes from so many people to make even a single issue, its staggering. So for it to be complete? To hold it in your hands and know you did a job well done? There's nothing like it.

You know, the biggest challenge in comics, it's not one singular event. The biggest challenge is learning how to wait and be patient, and how to manage your own mind while you wait. If you're a writer, waiting will be the majority of the job. You'll wait on editors for notes, on artists for pages, on publishers for decisions. There's a lot of time where you're just waiting and feeling powerless, and you have to learn to manage that and not let it overwhelm you. 

Q: How does the wider comics community where you live or even nationwide factor into your work as a rising creator?

So if you're a writer, the very first lesson you learn is that you can't do it alone. If you don't have artists and letterers helping you and believing in you while you believe in them, you've got nothing. And it's the same in the larger community. You have to be there supporting your friends. It's a crazy, crazy path we've chosen, and you've got to walk it together. The people you hang out with today can be your collaborators tomorrow. And whether it’s New York creators getting dinners and watching movies, or all the people I see a few weekends a year at a conventions, we are a community. And without that community, making comics would be a terribly lonely endeavor.


Q: Finally, tell us a bit about the work you've shared here today…

I am here to talk about my new series, Gryffen. Gryffen is my third collaboration with artist Bruno Hidalgo (after Shaman and Heavenly Blues) and it's lettered by Sal Cipriano. This new series is about Captain Lyla Gryffen, a mad space captain on a mission to take down a fascist human empire with the power of science. I like calling it Star Trek for psychopaths. The real fun of it is the Gryffen character. Because they are an extremist, and it's a lot of fun playing their extreme actions for both comedy and drama. Forget the refusal of the call, Gryffen grabs the plot by the neck and drags it kicking and screaming. It's beyond fun getting to write a character with that kind of forward momentum. We're releasing Gryffen in a way I've never done before. We're putting it out as half-issue length chapters. It's really made me think differently about how I pace the issues. The first chapter comes out this May in SBI's Free Comic Book Day issue, and then the series will be released on ComiXology following that. Hope you'll all check it out on May 4th!

You can follow Ben Kahn on Twitter at @BentheKahn and you can read last month’s Creator Journal feature here!

Check back next month to meet the third of four creators participating in this series!