SEXCASTLE Creator Kyle Starks Talks Kickstarter and Karate Chops [Interview]

By Jason Urbanciz

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After doing webcomics for a few years, Kyle Starks shifted to print last year with his first Kickstarter project, The Legend of Ricky ThunderThe Kickstarter was successful with over $8,500 raised for the comic, which finds Starks’ wrestling hero forced to fight for the fate of the planet against aliens while dealing with his own existential crisis. A little over a year later, Kyle (who contributed to Deadshirt’s month-long A Long Halloween art/essay series last October) is back with SEXCASTLE, an 80’s action movie homage. The Kickstarter has been running for two weeks, is fully funded and is getting close to eclipsing last year’s drive (with still two weeks to go). Deadshirt contributor Jason Urbanciz talked with Kyle about his new book, the challenges of crowdsourcing and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Jason Urbanciz: SEXCASTLE: Greatest distillation of the 80’s action movie in comics form or greatest comic?

Kyle Starks: Ha, well, I’m not sure that’s up to me to decide. I feel like it’s not so much an 80’s Action Movie comic as it’s painted with that brush.

JU: Did you decide you wanted to do something in the 80’s milieu and worked from there or did you come up with SEXCASTLE and it struck you it was an “80’s idea”?

KS: In 2012 I did that Wild Dog comic and it was as heavily influenced by 80s action movies as this was. I was actually going to work on another project this year, but I just had some action movie left in me that I had to get out before I moved on. This is the result of that impulse.

JU: Did you outline it first or just kind of let it take you?

KS: I had an outline. My general process for working is that I tell myself a story and I keep telling it until I really like it. So there’s an outline but not much else. Maybe some dialogue notes. I’m pretty sure [next project] I’m going to write a full script for though, there are too many frustrations working so loose – mostly the lack of personal editing.

JU: So the Kickstarter has been running for about a week and a half and you’re just shy of $8,000, how are you feeling with it right now?

KS: I’m feeling great. To have such a quick response, to be a quarter in and to be fully funded.  It’s really fantastic.

JU: Are you thinking of extra stretch goals past $9,000 or is that a wait and see thing? I’m pushing for you to get the Keep on Chuckin’ tattoo for reals if you hit $10k.

KS: Honestly, the stretch goals are the hardest thing to do with Kickstarters. You want to have neat stuff, but not blow the bank, and it needs to be fairly thematic to your program. My thing is that, anything more will require me doing new planning, new art, and I really don’t want to slow it down. It’s done. It’s ready. I’m waiting on a printer. Why add something that could delay the whole program by a month?

That being said, if someone gave me a really good idea I’d be hard pressed to not go after it. I know I told my wife that if this thing went unexpectedly crazy [then] after a certain point I would have to start donating in some manner to a charity.

JU: That makes a lot of sense, especially since, as you’ve said, you’ve got this book all done and ready to go.

KS: I think that’s the way Kickstarter was meant to be used, honestly. It’s to back a product, not an idea or a promise.

A page from The Legend of Ricky Thunder.

A page from The Legend of Ricky Thunder.

JU: What was the biggest thing you learned from your first Kickstarter?

KS: International shipping rates are cruel and unfair.

JU: That seems to be what everyone says.

KS: I went into Ricky with the same mindset. I drew a 10-page comic, drawing people into it – which was really great reward tier, but it was also a semi-rushed fan service sort of thing. There was ton of space to do a “I’ll draw you in” thing on SEXCASTLE, but I don’t want to wait for pictures, and I don’t want to force my aesthetic towards hard representation. I have no regrets about that other comic but it added a lot of stress and a delay, and I mean, like a week delay, tops.  but enough it irked me

JU: Yeah, I noticed there were fewer reward tiers this time around, but that doesn’t seem to have limited your funding. At the end of the day, the people want the book.

KS: I think the trade-off for gimmicks – and when I say that I’m not knocking reward tiers with awesome cool rewards – but I think my trade-off is “here’s the book. I worked hard on it.” And I don’t know anything about action figures or tote bags. I can add commissions.

JU: Do you think your next book will go the same Kickstarter route?

KS: I think until a proper publisher comes to me [and wants] to print my work I don’t have any other choice. As long as I want a physical book – for people to read – I have to have this. I have to have something that, just by existing, gets the word out to thousands of people. I can print up a couple hundred books and take them to cons. But it’s not the same breadth. I live in the Midwest and get to 2-4 cons a year, tops. If I want a lot of people to see and know about it, this is the only way that’s happening. For now.

JU: Let’s get back into 80’s stuff. I know you answered this on Tumblr the other day but for the site, what’s your idea of the ideal 80’s action flick? Basically, let’s talk about how amazing Commando is.

KS: When I think 80’s Action I definitely think of Commando first.  I don’t know if it’s my favorite but it’s definitely top 3. I say that with next to no actual thought put into it. But it has all the 80s action tropes. It has that awesome 4 hole rocket launcher. The garden shack scene alone. The “I’ll kill you last” bit. Commando, man. That’s a tough action movie to beat. And he’s doing it all for his kid. I think I appreciate that a lot more now – which isn’t to say I liked it LESS before I was a father, but now I like it somehow even more.

Commando (1985)

Commando (1985)

JU: Yeah, and I saw it first when I was like 10 years old. It was a sleepover staple in my elementary school years. That and Terminator.

KS: I’ve actually been spending a relatively decent amount of time this month thinking about Terminator, Running Man, Predator even things like The Matrix and how, in my head, they aren’t actually 80’s Action Movies, but 80’s Sci Fi movies. Like, I’m not sure that’s fair to the 80s, but I separate them. Why did Arnold do the most baller Sci-Fi movies of all time? Why isn’t that talked about ALL THE TIME? What other Sci-Fi premise is This Guy Is Going To Beat Up Aliens With A Stick? I think it’s crazy NOW where I’m sure at the time people just loves to see Arnold fight things. Different, myriad things.

JU: It’s weird that half of them have just amazing directors (Cameron, John McTiernan, Verhoeven) and the rest are one-off journeymen.

KS: 80’s were a heady time. A heady time of Arnold being the greatest thing on the planet. The 80’s to me are those action movies (and Sci-Fi movies) and John Hughes. And I was alive for the 80’s. I wasn’t a baby. I was actually there. But still, John Hughes and Schwarzenegger. You know what I’m talking about.

JU: Oh exactly, especially since that was the dawn of the video age. We were the first kids that could trundle down to the Blockbuster and grab whatever we wanted. Making a lot of threat-y/murder puns on the playground.

KS: I don’t think my dad ever went to a theater. I mean, I remember seeing Raiders with my family. We walked. I was four but I remember clearly. But he definitely VHS’d every possible action movie. And he clearly did not care how old anyone in the room might be or how inappropriate watching Terminator might be. We spoke fluent curses from a very young age at my house.

JU: Yeah, my dad would rent whatever he wanted to watch and he was pretty sure his boys would want to watch it too. I have been swearing like a sailor since I was eight.

KS: You don’t do that with your kids, right? I mean, I don’t. I feel like less the man my dad was because I don’t want my girls to see heads blown off or massive amounts of profanity and nudity.

JU: I don’t, and I agonize over it. Especially since my dad died. Like, I expected my dad to fill that same “agent of chaos” role for them so I could be a “good dad” and now I’m kind of wondering if I shouldn’t be so overprotective about what they watch.

KS: Oh, my dad like plays magic princess with my daughters. I’m always like “who the fuck is that a-hole?” He taught me to talk like that. That’s how we talk to each other. I like that better though. Seeing him always be the best type of man, I guess.

JU: Oh yeah, my dad was a fucking baby whisperer.

KS: I know he wanted me and my brother to build bicycle ramps and go on adventures, but like we read books all the time. Hopefully I made up for some of that with this book.

JU: See, my older brother was the adventurer and I was the one that saw those adventures landing him in the hospital a lot and I was all “I’ll stick with comics”. Still, I was the son that would watch The Magnificent Seven with him every damn time it was on WGN.

KS:  My brother and I started working at 14 – and I think that we followed that blue collar sensibility okayed a lot of our less rowdy behavior. But I’ll tell you, as soon as I got out of the house I did some things that would’ve made him proud, I’m sure.  But that’s between me and God and whoever else was there, and they ain’t talking. Out of fear. Or because I killed them. One of the two. Not saying which.


KS: That’s a long segue – but in the same hand, there’s A LOT of subtext in SEXCASTLE about parenting, and examples being set and responsibilities.

JU: I definitely picked up on that. Was that intentional? Or were you just halfway through and like, “huh”?

KS: It was intentional. I’ve been referencing Shane a lot lately – it’s a Western with real heart to it. It’s bad-ass, but more than those 80’s movies were. I could’ve made a really bonkers 80’s Action movie book – the same way that I made a bonkers wizard comic with Adventure Wizard.  But I think Adventure Wizard really fails in that it has no heart to it, it’s not saying anything.  It’s important to me that I say something or comment on something or you know the characters are driven by real things. Almost all the characters have some sort of parenting problem going on – even if the parent in question is their boss or whatever.

JU: I can see that, even the thug, Big Sur, ends up just needing that encouragement.

KS: Big Sur being probably my favorite character in the book was definitely not planned.  He and the big bad really came about after I started working on it. I knew I wanted to write the Big Bad like a 16-year-old girl, but I didn’t know it would end up being so charming. To me, anyway. The three goons, btw, all based on 80s pro-wrestlers. There’s a little easter egg for the Deadshirt readers.

JU: Oh man, that did not even occur to me. This is will make my next read of the book even more rewarding. So will we see Shane Sexcastle again?

KS: I honestly don’t know.  It feels like every good 80s Action movie had at least one sequel though.

JU:  For that matter, will we see Ricky Thunder again? Will we see them together?

KS: It’s not out of the question. As far as I’m concerned, to date, all my stuff is in the same universe.


For more of Kyle Starks’ signature brand of comic action, head on over to his websiteTwitter and Tumblr. You can also still donate to his Kickstarter for SEXCASTLE

Kyle will be appearing at both HeroesCon 2014 and Small Press Expo this year.

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