Hey everyone! I’m Brian the writer and Co-Creator of RAGS. I have been asked to share my journey from drunken idea to self-publishing our first issue.
The back back way back story:
For those that didn’t know, RAGS has taken almost 3 years from drunken funny concept to release. And like most stories, this wasn’t easy.
A short history of me, I’ve been writing since I was in the fifth grade. Most of my influences were from Japanese animation very early on. Around 1989 my father took a trip to Japan and returned with some Super Nintendo games that perked my interest in everything ANIME. By the time I had reached middle school I had completely watched, on VHS, every episode of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z so when the series finally hit U.S shores, I was ahead of the curve. The importance of this is that I was very heavily inspired by the works of Akira Toriyama. More specifically, his puns. If you pay close attention to his work, you will see that nearly every character he’s created has had some sort of pun-based naming convention. As I inspired myself to write, I attempted to adopt these traits. Early on it did not work out so well, but when you’re a kid everything you do is great right?
Flash forward after graduating High School and 9/11 happens. Being the full bloodied patriot that I am, I rushed to raise my right hand to join up and participate in the war on terror. During my time in the Army, I would continue to write but nothing ever really stuck. I had fans of my writing in my unit, but I was neither fully impressed with my own finished work or I felt I had become too ambitious with the projects I wanted to complete. I attempted to self-publish a full-length novel in 2005, only to find I had been scammed by a Vanity Press and coupled with a few other incidents which we’ll skip, simply stopped writing for a number of years.
Beer, Zombies and a nude mod
On a night that was a-typical of any other night. Trent and I were having a nice fun drunken night of playing Left 4 Dead 2 and attempting to defeat a Map called Yama. This was a difficult map to beat, and on to this day, we have been very unsuccessful at completing it. Anyway, I was using a mod titled: Ravaged Zoey. This mod left one of the female characters in a certain state of undress and to his credit, Trent called me out for utilizing the mod in order to…um…enhance my gameplay. Notably, poor Zoey was left without pants. Trent demanded that I explain myself and, very drunkenly mind you, I came up with an elaborate story about how Zoey was only with the other group of survivors to find clothes and the entire campaign was her quest to locate a comfortable pair of pants. I laughed. Trent laughed. The toaster laughed. I shot the toaster. It was a good time.A few months later I had finally caught the writing bug again and yet, I could not figure out WHAT exactly it was that I should write. So as what most people do in the social media age because it’s the cool thing to do, I decided to let Facebook decide my path for me. I put out a list of old stories I could revisit and possibly give new life to some old characters. Just as the votes were coming in, Trent sent me a message:
Dude! Write a story about that chick looking for pants!
Could I? The concept was stupid, but it was funny. Well at least to us. But after a moment of contemplation, I decided: This is so stupid it just might work!!
Not long after Trent and I began brainstorming. Originally envisioned as an extremely short story the beta version of RAGS started out with an unnamed female protagonist arriving at a Wal-Mart style store, without pants and fully armed to the teeth, but of course minus the pants. She would lose them constantly as she met other survivors or zombies. Always coming out on top, but always bottomless… That had been mulled around a bit but eventually tossed on the floor due to being unable to flesh out the main character, or having a good reason why the loss of pants as a justifiable occurrence. Later, we came up with a working rough draft but decided that instead of novelizing our idea, it would be much more fun if we wrote it as a movie script.
I had never written movie scripts before, and so I went to see the one friend I knew that had. Balam, or Luis as he’s better known as has written many wonderful scripts for movies that will possibly never get made (quite unfortunate but that’s life eh?). I asked him to show how he went about putting his scripts together and after a couple hours of tutelage, I eventually got the hang of things.
Two six packs and three days later I had written the first draft of RAGS: A Zombie Shopping Spree. It was designed to be its own self-contained silly one-shot, however as we shared it around our small network of friends we kept noticing that while initially disgusted with our beginning, people generally enjoyed the story elements and humor overall. Though while the entire concept was outright dumb, they did thoroughly enjoy the journey from beginning to end. Embers underneath the fire if you will.
Next thing we did was shop the story around FB Author groups. This is where we hit out first major roadblock. Immediately the script we share was derided as sexist, misogynistic, and disgustingly vulgar. Just to name a few of the many praises lauded onto us. Our responses got us removed from group after group, until we settled into another group titled Fiction Writing. There we actually met a few authors who saw the gem hidden in the coals of our script and agreed to help us polish things. Eventually, we were kicked out of this group as well. Cie Le Vie.
Regina Ragowski: The mama Leopard
One of the main issues that plagued us, in the beginning, was that our protagonist initially didn’t have a name, personality and they lacked any real depth. We were at a loss as to what to do as we thought our current script was perfect. Nameless heroine on a quest for pants, small town mall, Jill’s Sandwiches, puns galore what was not to love? After some collaboration, we eventually decided to do what any other sane person would do, and dropped the entire thing the trash and start over again. To add depth to the character that we needed, we realized that we needed a character with a name. A name that would kinda stick. So Trent and I got drunk again and went back to L4D2 to brainstorm. Ya know. Science. It was there, as when we’re doing our best to sabotage each other’s efforts at survival that Trent had the epiphany: Dude, we should name her Regina Ragamuffin. To which I responded: Nah man, Ragowski! Like the Big Lebowski but Ragowski!
Needless to say, we think we nailed it there.
Secondly, we needed a personality type. A realistic one. Not a Mary-Sue or a typical tsundere anime girl. We needed legit real personalities to humanize and create a character that you could root for, despite their flaws. While pondering how I should go about this Liz Finnegan had tweeted out: “Get your heads out of your dickholes you WHORE REFS!”
Yeah. It was right then and there I was sold. SOOOO SOLD!
At the time too, I decided to reach out to some female battle buddies of mine from the ARMY to interview them about their input on their unique life experiences and things they had to deal with during their time in the Military. Combining all these things with our character, Regina, finally being given a name, a history and a personality that appropriately matched, all she needed was a face….
Making a Baby:
Movie treatment in hand, polished (4th or 9th time) and ready to rock we came to the conclusion that it was time to start pitching to Netflix and Amazon. Well long story short, we were rejected. Flat out. It seemed as the studio heads there didn’t believe in the subtle nuance a story about a naked woman and her quest for pants could tell and at the same time entertain an audience that wasn’t a bunch of pervs. In that moment of double rejection, we then decided: Fuck it, we’ll make it a comic!
Not knowing how to write comics scripts was another HUGE roadblock. But we took the time to read books on how to write the MARVEL way, studied how IMAGE and DC writers handled their scripts and said: Fuck that noise!
Eventually, we found a style that suited our needs and got right to work. We placed feelers out into the net and reached out to multiple artists before we got our first hit. Recommended to us by a mutual online friend who does short comic work, this artist we reached out to gave us the first real rendition of Regina.
This was great, however, the script and description we gave to them involved a tattoo to be placed on Regina’s left leg. The artist took it upon themselves to change the placement of the tattoos and at first, we were upset…
…however the look ended up growing on us so we just went with it. This same artist was also commissioned to complete 5 pages in a timely manner, however, they went radio silent for long periods of time. So, while they were silent we searched for a second artist that would be able to meet our needs and not just vanish. While we did enjoy their work, the inability to effectively collaborate and the long periods of silence eventually forced us to find another partner.
The second artist we reached out too, this time working with our third drafted script, promised to deliver pages and work on time. However, he quickly showed to us that he did not have the same passion as Trent and I had for our story and script. We fired this artist, and surprisingly they begged for a second chance. We gave it to them, however, they still failed to meet simple deadlines. 6 pages of inks took 6 months or more to receive. And knowing that we would be attempting more pages in a shorter period of time, we found this completely unacceptable and fired this person again. We never got our money or our time back.
All of this would lead us to Sasha. I had worked her before on some small things. And wanted to give her a shot at RAGS. We had the rapport. I knew her work ethic. I wanted to take a chance. So I commissioned a Regina concept from her and it turned out wonderful! Unfortunately, due to personal reasons Sasha had to focus on other things and wasn’t available to work with us. At this time, we honestly were deciding what we should do. We’d already poured in the money to artists. Set up the webpage, domain, set up the Facebook group, the Reddit page. I had just finished setting up our Patreon and T-shirt/ Merchandise store to hopefully help crowdfund our project, but I was curious as to what I could do to get this thing out of the water when there were already multiple gaping holes in our boat. We were lost and dejected and honestly felt as though we had given it a good attempt. To cut our losses and at least be proud that we tried to do something fun while most people would sit back and complain about things.
Hail Mary, or rather Hail Liz!
So as everyone knows by now, that we based Regina around Liz Finnegan’s football tweets and her face. This was initially supposed to be just another one of the many Easter eggs I had planned. As a nod to those that knew and an ‘oh that’s cool’ to those that didn’t. Well, I didn’t have official permission, so with the house around us seemingly burning down at a high rate, I decided to reach out to Liz and inform her of our intentions. The thought was if she said yes, then we’d continue. But a No would let us know that this project wasn’t meant to come to life and to move back to doing other things. I honestly did not believe I would get a response, or rather I didn’t expect to receive such a positive one from her. She enjoyed it. She was a fan. We had a reason to make this shit happen. I passed her blessing onto Trent and we felt renewed. And as if karma was rewarding us for our perseverance that’s also when we found Luigi.
Separately from this RAGS project, I had been working on something of a MARVEL Fan comic. Again, testing the waters and teaching myself the ins and outs and nuances of things of making comics just for knowledge’s sake. I had commissioned an artist, who I felt scammed me out of a potentially fun project and a beaucoup amount of money. As the animosity between us grew Luigi eventually stepped in and finished the work all the while remaining professional the entire time. Even with my demands for compensation being delivered in a cruel manner (I’m really an asshole in real life.), Luigi maintained complete utter professionalism and delivered to me this: Regina-Chan 2.0 as we called it. Everything about it was perfect. The onesie. The eyes. The freckles. The trigger discipline. It was at this time as we were completing my other side project, that I decided to throw another hail mary and put the offer out. If our previous interactions had been contentious I had doubts that he would accept anything additional that I would request.
Back on track and ready to rock, I felt the need to go back and hand Luigi a script that was worthy of his talents. This script was the first half of issue #1 that Trent and I agreed would be a good test to see how Luigi worked and see if he was a good fit for future works.
Well, needless to say, that what he sent in to us next made our jaws drop. It was at this point. This moment we knew. We immediately went all in and gave Luigi an open deadline to get things done. It was tough, there was a bunch of back and forth and loads of frustration. To this day I still think somewhere he rolls his eyes whenever he sees my email populate in his inbox. But good lord. Without Luigi, RAGS would probably still just be some pipe dream between two drunk guys and a nude mod.
The lesson here to take home is that if you believe in a project, no matter how silly or dumb it may seem. No matter what comments or putdowns that others who don’t know the intricacies of your work. You should just F.I.D.O:
Fuck It.Drive On.
Sure, we will probably never see a full return on the hours and money we’ve spent. But at the end of the day, Trent, Luigi and I will bring to the world our baby. A story about a something near and dear to me, PTSD and overcoming self-guilt. We’re bringing Trent’s great plots, outlines, and story concepts to life in a meaningful way. And hopefully, we’re bringing forward into the spotlight, the amazing talents of a man who deserves to be the lead of animation company. Even if this isn’t a success, it will be all be worth it, because, at the beginning of all this, I did get to meet the amazing person that inspired us and drove us to move onward despite the hurdles and setbacks. And with that, my bucket list is complete.
Written by Brian Ball