Art

Birth of a Comic

Jacksonville artist takes ‘Dan in Space’ to New York Comic Con and dreams of more adventures

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Read through the comic “Dan in Space” and you’ll see why creator Josh Rudloff describes it as “Aliens” meets “Office Space.” You’ll also understand why the comic netted its Jacksonville creator a spot at one of the world’s most prestigious comic conventions.

The story, set 100 years in the future, follows technician Dan Johnson, an average Joe sent on less-than-average missions. A coffee and pizza junkie, Johnson constantly finds the humor in every formidable situation he encounters.

Sure, the comic is quirky and fun, but what sets it apart are its illustrations. Nearly every turn of the page reveals something new and offbeat. That’s because every illustration is meticulously planned and executed by its creator. Each page is babied for hours until it’s just right. It’s the work of a perfectionist.

The comic — which is available in both traditional book form and on the Internet — earned Rudloff a place among the comic elite this year when he was invited to participate in New York Comic Con. More than 20,000 applied to attend the convention, and only 1,233 were chosen to exhibit their work, according to the NYCC website.

Some 115,000 fans packed Manhattan in mid-October at NYCC, which featured comics, graphic novels, anime, manga, video games, toys, movies and television.

“I just can’t believe it,” Josh Rudloff said before he and his wife Jacqueline attended the convention. “We are going to be around all of these people, the artists whose comics I grew up reading.”

The Rudloffs were certainly in good company at the convention.

They were set up within shouting distance of the creator of “Hellboy” and shared the floor with hundreds of aspiring and accomplished artists. The convention also featured numerous producers, creators, directors and actors, including the original Batman and Robin — Adam West and Burt Ward.

The opportunity to take part in the convention almost didn’t happen, however. When Jacqueline, the producer of “Dan in Space,” originally submitted the application to New York Comic Con last April, the couple received the standard response: “Try again next year.” Two weeks later, convention organizers had changed their minds, giving the Rudloffs the chance to attend.

“NYCC was incredible,” Josh Rudloff said after his return. “I met my childhood comic-book inspiration, Erik Larsen [best known for his work on “Savage Dragon” and “Spider-Man”], made some amazing new friends and sold a lot of comic books.”

“Dan in Space” is among a new generation of comics first distributed online as an app via the Android Market (now rebranded as Google Play). The Rudloffs’ first issue of “Dan in Space,” at the time available only as a mobile comic, received a positive response.

“We sold it on the Android Market for a good six months,” Jacqueline said. “It sold like crazy.” With its success, Jacqueline urged her husband to get the comic to print. The couple began a Kickstarter campaign, an online pledge system used to fund new projects.

“With the Kickstarter campaign, we were just hoping to raise enough money to cover printing costs,” Jacqueline said. “We were just amazed at the response and support we received.”

Climb upstairs in the Rudloffs’ home and you find a map of the world hanging on the wall, littered with thumbtacks. The pins are scattered over 13 countries, representing people the Rudloffs have never met who have supported the creation through the Kickstarter campaigns. With help from friends, family and those complete strangers, the 30-day campaign was fully funded in seven days. The Rudloffs’ second campaign received an even stronger response.

The worldwide support of their comic wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the exposure the Android Market gave “Dan in Space” in its early days. The first printed books arrived just in time for Jacksonville’s First Wednesday Art Walk in July, where the comic was revealed in its print version for the first time.

Weeks later, the couple received word from New York Comic Con telling them they were in. Josh quickly got to work on the second edition of “Dan in Space”; he didn’t want to go to NYCC with only one comic. Josh knew he’d have to make sacrifices to finish the second edition in a mere six weeks. Every waking moment he wasn’t teaching at the Art Institute of Jacksonville or working at Best Buy was devoted to the second edition.

“First it was television, then it was video games, then seeing my wife — and then hygiene started to go,” Josh joked.

The Rudloffs brainstorm ideas for the comics, bouncing thoughts off each other, sometimes while walking their dog in the morning. “We want to be organic and not copy anything else,” Jacqueline said. “In the second one, we wanted to create some bite and [an] underlying mystery.”

Josh drew the illustrations, and Jacqueline was in charge of editing and production. The couple, along with a few friends and a professional letterer, did the work of an entire staff. Working nearly 100 hours a week and sleeping five hours a night, they completed the second edition just in time for NYCC.

The Rudloffs sold about 200 copies of their new comic at NYCC and have sold about 170 copies online. The comic is now also offered on Graphically, Kablam, Comicpress, Kindle, the Apple Bookstore and Amazon.

They’ve sold about 500 print issues of the first edition and about 200 of the second.

Creating a popular comic is no easy task, but there is a growing demand for them. The estimated overall market size for comic books has more than doubled since 2000, from an estimated 265 million to 680 million in 2011, according to the comic research website comichron.com.

“Dan in Space” is available locally at Borderlands Comics & Games in Arlington, Black Hive Comics (formerly Universe of Superheroes) in Riverside, Alter-Ego Comics in Orange Park and Spring Park Coffee in Green Cove Springs. The issues also can be downloaded from the Rudloffs’ website, squirrelmasterstudios.com.

“The Internet has definitely helped artists get their work out there,” said Chip Parker of Borderlands. “There’s a lot of webcomics, and those get the readership base developed. Subsequently, when artists come out with printed comics, there’s already a base audience that will purchase them. Prior to the advent of webcomics, it was much tougher to get your work to the masses because the printing industry wasn’t set up to do small production runs of comics.”

Jonathan Sanders, of Black Hive Comics, said gaining readers is a challenge for comic creators. “I think there is a bit of added competition with the Internet,” Sanders said. “People can go online, check out reviews of comics and look at previews before [they] buy them.”

In the future, the Rudloffs would like to pitch “Dan in Space” as a movie or a television show. They’d also like to start their own media studio. For now, they’re doing everything they can to make it.

“This is the big dream,” Jacqueline said. “This is what it’s all about.”

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