Wesley and Brad Sun used money from a Kickstarter campaign to self-publish “Chinatown” (2012), a graphic novel that Brad illustrated and the brothers co-wrote. Wesley works as a chaplain at Jackson Park Hospital and got his Master of Divinity at the UofC. Brad studied painting and drawing in college and plays punk rock on the guitar. The brothers call their two-man comic book studio Sun Bros Studios, and plan on releasing “Apocalypse Man,” a second, shorter comic book, in March.
When you first started in the very beginning, emailing each other back and forth, did you think you would continue making comics into the future, eventually starting a company?
BS: For me I was interested in seeing where I could go as a comic book artist. I don’t know if he wanted to do comic books or not.
WS: I was different–didn’t go to art school, all the self-training that Brad did–I didn’t go through that, but when Brad asked how serious we were about getting a book together, [I said] “Yeah let’s do it.” I don’t know if when we started working on “Chinatown” I was thinking about forming a company per se, but I was definitely interested in seeing how far we could take it. If and when this book was out and a success, why wouldn’t we write another one? Why would we do a great thing and stop? During the day I’m a hospital chaplain, but I never thought we would do one great thing and not return to it. I think some of the nitty gritty of getting [from] A to B (how do we form a company, do we launch through Kickstarter, or do we get a Publisher), those things came later, but I always had a mind to keep going for as long as we were doing great things.
You’re scheduled for a lot of upcoming comic shows and conventions. Are you planning on going with a preview of “Apocalypse Man”?
WS: We’ll have two pieces which are really different: one a 120-page, full-color graphic novel, compared to a thirty to forty page one-shot comic with a different art style, different look, different feel to it. It’ll be nice to show people the depth of Brad’s art and the work we do together.
BS: It’s also to show people we do think of ourselves as a comic book studio, that there are other things on the horizon.
WS: It’s worth mentioning too that all through last year, when we were talking to other comics people, small press people, and asking them how we should get started to get ideas and compare notes, there were a number of people that told us we were doing it backwards: we should do a thirty page B&W first, test the waters, and then move up to a full-color graphic novel. There was a way you start small, and see how well you do and proceed from there. But unintentionally, we reversed this, for all kinds of reason–”Chinatown” was our most developed project, we had a certain market in mind. But also because it also shows we’re capable of doing this kind of work. [With] a lot of folks on Artist’s Alley [where comics artists meet at conventions], there’s a certain kind of wisdom: “Oh my God, you don’t want to do that, how do you know your Kickstarter will work, that’s a lot of money up front…” Certain kind of caution built into that, whereas we decided to be more bold and decide that this is the story we want to do and do it right. Hopefully when we go to convention people will see we’re artists who make the art we want to make and they’ll like it.
As you mentioned, you’re doing this backward in terms of traditional advice, and Kickstarter is definitely not a traditional way of breaking into comics. As a result, however, you seem to have built a local base and online network as well.
WS: It helps to be in a local medium, too. I was also really glad to see we’re written up in some blogs as well. We’re actually speaking at C2E2 [Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, April 26-28] with the Institute for Comics Research about getting started in comics on all these unusual things–how to get started, how do you get into bookstores on consignment sale. It’s what people ask more than anything else, but more than that I get questions about ‘How do you start?,’ so I’m really excited about doing that, and continuing to build an audience. It helps to get other people’s take. So far, all the reviews have been quite good and I’m waiting for a negative review.
BS: Right now, if someone doesn’t like the book, they just wouldn’t waste time writing a review. But once we’re established enough that people feel the need to write a bad review, then we know we’ve made it
WS: Exactly. And it’s been really gratifying hearing people get what we’re trying to do, when they say things that make me feel [that] as storytellers we actually told a story effectively.
BS: And I think he was more confident of that than me. In the beginning I had these certain ideas of how I wanted the comic book to look that kind of deliberately weren’t the way comic books usually look–and I was like, “Do you think people are going to think I didn’t know what I was doing? I feel like I should explain myself…” And Wesley would say, “No don’t worry about it.”
WS: I would go to his studio, and he said something once: “I’m always going to make this kind of nontraditional and weird, you’ll have to reel me back.” And I told him, “I’m not going to do that.”
I remember when we were in the writing process [of “Chinatown”], we gave out the script to read, without any of the art to look at except some concept sketches Brad did. There’s this part when protagonist Lau is sitting in his old martial arts studio, and some figure is standing outside. And I asked our friend Dan whether that was distracting. I knew we had something good when he replied, “No, I feel like it’s the kind of town where things like that happen all the time.” That’s the hardest part to do, to get the feel of the world you’re creating, without expository dialogue.
How do you feel about the collaboration process? You guys are brothers, so it seems like it might be more natural to write things together and create together.
BS: Before coming to Wesley with the comic book, I did a collaboration with another writer, another quick five-page story–and I found out I liked it a lot. Before, it was just me coming up with my own stories. I naturally thought I wouldn’t like to collaborate with someone, that art was such a personal thing, but it was really fun. That’s when I thought about that book me and Wesley were working on. For our first book, it was a huge benefit being brothers. Coming up with a tone, establishing the rules of the world and whatnot, we didn’t really discuss that because we were so keyed in to what we wanted that it was kind of a given. I don’t remember any of us throwing out an idea and the other saying, “That doesn’t fit with my conception.” In that sense it only benefited that we knew each other so well.
What do you think about the comics scene on the South Side?
WS: I would like to see more comics stuff happen on the South Side–Brad too. Every time there’s a convention, a gathering, a fancy comics shop, it’s always north. Anything to bring comic culture south in Chicago is good. We had our launch party [at] the Experimental Station–I think it was a great space–but our attendance probably would have been better up north. Some of it has to do with catching the El, but [there’s] also a certain stigma of not wanting to go to the South Side. I’m really happy to be a part of a project that is helping to bring more comics stuff to the South Side.