A blend of steampunk design and occult horror storytelling, the Cognition series has recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the latest instalments in the series. Issues #3 and #4 will be covered by the money raised in the campaign, with the first two issues currently available to buy on the BigCartel page or read on Comixology.
There’s plenty to entice in anyone who isn’t entirely sold on the concept of a haunted automaton solving mysteries in Victorian London with the help of his demon possessed mouse. Issue #0 has been officially released for free to offer a glimpse of what to expect. This prequel comic is made up of a number of shorts that offer an introduction to the world of Cognition.
We spoke to the creative mind behind the series, Ken Reynolds, to find out more about how it came to be, where it’s going and what fuels his creative cogs.
Kirstie: How did you get into creating comics?
Ken: Oddly enough, I decided to start making comics when my free time began to get very limited. I had always taken on freelance graphic design projects in my spare time as a creative outlet from my day job in pre-press print production. After our daughter was born, I realised the amount of time I would have to devote to these projects would be limited, so I decided I would have to enjoy any project I took on.
I’d always had an interest in comics but had always tried to do everything on the page myself, and got discouraged by the results. After listening to a few small press comics podcasts (The Awesome Comics Podcast is particularly notable in this case) the penny finally dropped that I might be able to help others complete their books with my pre-press knowledge and typography skillset. In fact I had the makings of a letterer without ever knowing.
So I started out as a letterer. I lettered shorts for anthologies, and began taking on full issues. Part of the joy of lettering is getting to know so many creative teams… Soon you have a network of friends to ask for advice.
This all snowballed into having the confidence to write my own stories and use what I’d learned… At this point, three years in, it has all exploded into writing, editing an anthology, even drawing my own books. I guess I feel like I found the thing I should have been doing for a long time, and now I’m playing catch up.
Kirstie: What/who are your biggest creative inspirations?
Ken: I always have trouble with this question. Especially getting into specifics.
My usual answer is everything I see, hear and read. I’d say the biggest driving factor is watching the small press comics scene in action. Other people doing what you are doing. There’s so much interesting work being made and it’s really inspiring to watch and unbelievable to be a part of.
This was bought home to me after the first MCM London convention I tabled at. I got chatting to the tables next to me over the weekend, we talked about our projects, I pitched a few things and came away with a huge drive to pursue one idea I’d been stalled on for a long time. I get refuelled talking to other creators, because passion and enthusiasm is infectious and people that make comics ooze it for what they are doing.
It’s not easy, I think you have to love it to get a far as having a book on a table to sell at a convention, and everyone behind a table knows that, no matter if you ‘like’ the books. You know what goes on to get it made.
Kirstie: Tell us about Cognition.
Ken: Of course! Cognition is about a steam-powered automaton inhabited by a human soul and a demonically possessed mouse. They share a consciousness and don’t get along. They are agents of The British Occult Secret Service (B.O.S.S.); fighting monsters and ghosts during the height of the Victorian era.
It’s a mature comic, with some quite dark themes. There are elements of horror but I describe it as a supernatural adventure comic.
Kirstie: How did you come up with the idea for it?
Ken: The initial spark was a steampunk version of Pinocchio. The whole story has travelled a very long way from that but the essence of a human being trapped in a synthetic body is still there, but there are a lot more layers of magic and personality dynamics on top.
Kirstie: What inspired the steampunk design?
Ken: As the idea developed, the steampunk elements began to fade away quite quickly. The story is not set in a full on alternative steam-powered world. I see the robot body that is featured is the fork in the road where the alternative history began to diverge. So the only steampunk elements are those I’m introducing in a very familiar historical setting. Hopefully, as the stories progress and the time period lengthens we might begin to develop a more realised steampunk aesthetic but for now we’re shooting for a fish out of water feeling.
Kirstie: What made you want to incorporate the supernatural horror elements?
Ken: I enjoy the idea that occult elements may have helped to make that technological historical shift towards a steampunk world. In general, I always like to keep a dark edge to the stories I have to tell. Demons are a wonderful metaphor to use as a way to explore humanity and the awful things we are capable of. Plus, who doesn’t love writing monsters?
The biggest influence on the stories are British folklore. I delve into spectral dogs, hedge-witches, the will o’the wisp… I’m having a LOT of fun introducing all these myths and legends into a historical context. Having B.O.S.S. investigate all these threats to the British Empire is a great procedural structure to key into the characters.
Kirstie: You’re now on your third Cognition comic. How does the story continue in this edition?
Ken: Comics are a bit odd… The latest is issue #3, but it’s actually our fourth comic in the series because we made a #0 issue comprising 3 short stories to introduce the characters, their world and the rules they play by. In fact you can download the #0 issue for free to get a taste of the story (http://bit.ly/cognition-0 ).
Issue #1 was our first full length story and is, seemingly, self-contained but I leave a few breadcrumbs for what is to come. Issue #2, 3 & 4 work as a continuous, if serialised, story that builds and comes to a climax that I’m really excited for readers to experience.
Kirstie: When you launched the first Cognition book, did you picture it lasting for this long?
Ken: Hmmmm, I’m really not sure. When I started out with the #0 issue I made it intending to pitch it around and see if I could get a publisher interested. The reaction it got spurred me on to make issue #1 and that success made me plan the entire arc, so I guess this 5 issue story has been on the cards relatively early. I had an idea for the arc as I was writing issue #1 but made sure that story worked on its own in case it didn’t get enough attention. Thankfully enough people were interested and I ploughed on for the more involved story. I’m so glad I got to tell it all.
Kirstie: What did you choose Kickstarter to fund your comics?
I had very little social media presence, I wasn’t very widely known on the small press comics scene and I used Kickstarter to try and establish a readership… Something I would never recommend to anyone. It’s usually best to take an established audience to a crowdfunding platform.
I guess, I feel that this was a proof of concept. I launched it cold and still garnered enough interest to get the book made. It was hugely encouraging.
Because I established my readership via Kickstarter, it makes good sense to keep the series there for the people that made it possible to establish it. I owe the platform and the continued support of those backers for the existence of these books, because I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.
Kirstie: How have you found your Kickstarter experience?
Ken: It’s like adding an additional part-time job to your life.
The first few campaigns were very stressful. I’m a very conscientious person and dislike taking people’s money without giving them what they’ve paid for quite quickly. So I always try to cover production costs, ask the Kickstarter to chip in for the print costs with the hope of recouping a bit of my outlay. This way I get to fulfil my campaigns within 4-6 weeks of successful funding. It’s the only way I’m comfortable doing it.
Otherwise it’s a solid three month endeavour. I always aim for a month to plan, a month to run and a month to fulfil. During all that time promotion and online communication is quite intense. It’s difficult to tread the line between good natured promotion and abrasive pushing. You always feel as though you are boring people with it. I think most people accept it quite well. Social media is generally shouting into the void in the hope that a few people will take notice.
For me it’s the best way to build my audience and assist in getting my books made, but it’s not an easy road. Most good things aren’t.
Kirstie: What are your plans for the future of the Cognition series? Are there any more Kickstarters on the horizon?
Ken: I’ve launched the Kickstarter campaign to fund the print costs of issues #3 & #4 of the series. This will complete the first story arc. Making it 5 issues in just over 2 years, which is pretty brisk for small press.
This is an ideal opportunity for new readers to jump in on the book as they will be able to read an entire story beginning to end over the 5 single issues. We delayed this campaign to make sure we complete the story all at once in one go instead of drawing it out over another 2 funding drives.
Plans for the series beyond the story arc? It’s hard to tell. I have so many ideas, but time and resources are always a factor. I know my artistic partners are very fond of the characters and world. If we can find a way to make it all work I’ll never say no to making more. I’m just not quite sure in what form yet. It could be comics, but most likely as longer format European folio books instead of single issues, or maybe even telling a few tales in prose and mixing in some comic narratives too… It’s all very up in the air, but fun and exciting to think about. Right now I’m fully focussed on sticking the landing on this first story arc, hoping it’s received well and then seeing what opportunities we can create going forward.
Kirstie: Do you know where the story might be heading?
Ken: I know precisely where I want to take the characters. There is an origin story of sorts. I have a few epic historical scenes I’d like to overlap with the world we’ve created and I have notions of an Empire based road-trip of sorts.
But we’ll see.
Kirstie: Do you have any advice for aspiring comic creators?
Start. That’s the best advice I can give. If there is a story you’ve always wanted to tell, one you’ve wanted to see realised… Start. It sounds quite glib and simplistic, but there is a deeper meaning to it.
Basically, it’s much easier to improve something that exists than fine tune an idea that is stuck in your head. Get making. Don’t be afraid to work things out as you go along. Take advice, decide what you want to use, never stop learning.
Nothing is perfect, nothing is finished. There’s just a point where you decide to stop working on it and put it out into the world. Do it. But make sure that the process is enough. You have to enjoy the making, that has to be the goal. Everything after that is out of your control. You can’t be sure anyone will buy it or like it. But if you already got what you needed in the making of it, anything else after that is a bonus.
We’d like to thank Ken for taking the time to talk to use and wish him the best of luck with his Kickstarter! If you want to support it, you can back the campaign here. You can also follow Cognition on Twitter and Facebook, read it on Comixology and buy the comics for yourself on its BigCartel page.