Acclaimed Maine comic artist has novel business model to fund original projects

Posted Aug. 12, 2014, at 12:14 p.m.

CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — When Ray Dillon was an aspiring artist as a high schooler in Kansas, there were no online drawing tutorials or social networks available to show off his work.

“I had to figure it out on my own,” Dillon recalled. “So I’ve always just enjoyed passing along what I’ve learned.”

But although Dillon — who now lives in Cape Elizabeth with his fellow artist wife, Renae De Liz, in what is perhaps the comic book industry’s most dynamic power couple — has learned the tricks of the trade, he still has some hopes and dreams left of his own.

Dillon has earned status for working for industry heavyweights Marvel and DC, has developed art for animation for HBO’s critically acclaimed “Game of Thrones,” and has well-known titles like “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” on his resume. Now he wants more freedom to pursue a series of comic books and graphic novels of his own.

So here’s the deal: Dillon is asking supporters to sign up for monthly contributions to his ongoing crowdsourcing campaign, and in return, is offering a range of givebacks that includes one-on-one career advice for aspiring artists.

Dillon is running his campaign through the website, and the five new original titles he plans to steadily release to subscribers provide variety for fans. They range from the post-apocalyptic superhero book “The Gatekeeper” to the time-travel, swords-and-sorcery-themed “The Torn Cape” to the surreal, semi-autobiographical “Last Days With Granma.”

As labors of love, Dillon has chipped away at the five original comic books with 15 minutes of work here and 15 minutes there, in some cases, for years. But working around the oftentimes higher profile freelance jobs for big-timers like Marvel, he’s only reached four or five pages of progress on many of his own projects.

“It’s similar to Kickstarter, except that it’s for ongoing projects,” he said of Patreon. “I’ve been working for 15 years on clients’ projects, and this is my first chance to do my own work, writing and drawing.”

And for those who pitch in to help him afford the time to work on those projects — which will be released digitally at first, and potentially in paper as they’re completed — Dillon is willing to offer himself up as a powerful ally in the competitive world of comic books.

For contributors who pledge at least $10 per month, Dillon will view and critique the patron’s artwork, offer advice on career advancement and getting hired, and share that artwork on his social networks of 8,500 potential fans.

If his supporters combine to provide at least $300 per month, he’ll begin releasing monthly art tutorial videos as well as ongoing work on the five original titles.

Dillon said that while some of the easy-to-access drawing tutorials and technology now available to the public weren’t around when he was growing up, the comic book and graphic novel art world has become more challenging for newcomers

“Most companies don’t take submissions any more, so it’s very difficult to break in,” he said.

But for people who want some advice on how to try, Dillon’s got an offer on the table.