Listen to Learn:
Mitch, 42, grew up in Benton, and 37-year-old Elizabeth is from Beebe. They studied art at Harding University, though not at the same time, and have been married since 2007. Mitch was a voracious reader who was writing his own stories and drawing even before he started reading comics. In 2000, he moved to Cliffside Park, N.J., and started trying to break into the comic book industry in New York. After five years, he landed a job with Marvel comics drawing "Drax the Destroyer" that led to a contract with the giant publisher and found Mitch working on titles like "Captain America" and "Hulk." He also moved back to Arkansas and met Elizabeth.
She liked to draw but didn't dive into art until college, where she studied sculpture and painting. After graduating, she taught junior high and high school art at Central Arkansas Christian Schools.
Mitch was working on "Captain America: Operation Zero Point" and asked whether Elizabeth had ever considered being a comic book color artist. "The industry really needed good color artists at that time," she says. "So, I started coloring his pages for fun and for portfolio use. He showed them to his editors, and they liked the work and they decided to use them." She was soon coloring pages full time.
In July 2018, they started a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo for the book "Red Rooster: Golden Age" and raised more than $197,000. The success of the campaign led them to team with David Martin, CEO of Allegiance Consulting Group in Little Rock. They pitched him their idea for selling comic books at a large retailer and not just comic bookstores and hobby shops.
Martin helped connect them with other investors. In October 2018, they found themselves pitching their venture to Cameron Smith of Cameron Smith & Associates, a consumer-packaged goods recruiter in Bentonville. Smith, who became an investor, assembled another meeting that included a former Disney executive and representatives for Readerlink Distribution Services LLC, which distributes most of the books found in Walmart. About a week before Christmas, the couple learned they were in. Their books would be sold at Walmart.
The Breitweisers see potential for their nascent operation to expand beyond the colorful pages of a book and into movies, video games, television series and animation.
Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
[00:00:08] GM: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Through storytelling and conversational interviews, this weekly radio show and podcast offers listeners an insider’s view into the commonalities of successful people and the ups and downs of risk-taking. Connect with Kerry through her candid, funny, informative, and always encouraging weekly blog. And now it's time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.
[00:00:27] KM: Thank you son, Gray. My guest today is the successful indie comic book publisher, Mitch Breitweiser of the creative husband and wife team, Mitch and Elizabeth Breitweiser’s Founder of Allegiance Art and Entertainment in Little Rock, Arkansas. I meant to ask you if I was saying your last name right before we got on the air. And I forgot to ask.
[00:00:52] MB: You’re right on. No. You’re all good. It’s perfect.
[00:00:56] KM: Oh good!
[00:00:55] MB: Breitweiser, yeah.
[00:00:57] KM: There you go. Though we may all feel like comic book characters are everywhere in our blockbuster movies and video games, the truth is there are few new ones that are being printed, published and distributed in the old-fashioned comic book style and business model. In the year of COVID, which we will all remember well, this young brave couple launched Allegiance Art and Entertainment, made a Shark Tank like presentation to Walmart. And after a 20-year absence in the comic book industry, Walmart began selling and distributing the Breitweiser's magazine titles and heroes; Norah's Saga, The Futurists, Red Rooster and Bass Reeves, who is loosely based on the US Marshall from Fort Smith, Arkansas, who in the late 1800s worked in part for the famous hanging judge, Isaac Parker. So how did these young Harding college graduates meet? Not at college. And how did these comic book geeks, so to speak, get interested in an industry that is being replaced by video games and blockbuster action films? Well, today we will find out and learn about this interesting couple's life success and the business of comic books. It is a pleasure to welcome to the table the ballsy, busy and creative Mitch Breitweiser.
[00:02:17] MB: Thank you so much for having me.
[00:02:19] KM: So let's start at the beginning. When did your love of comic books begin?
[00:02:23] MB: Really, around 12 when my dad brought some home for Christmas as a stocking stuffer. And I kind of knew what a comic book was before that, but I was always writing and drawing. Like that was just my thing. I’d love to draw and I was always winning the art contests in elementary school, but I was also writing at the same time and just being always very creative. But when he brought home a comic book, and it was spider-man 2099 number one and number two on the Death of Superman Series. This was like back in – I don't know, ’88, ’89.Somewhere right around there. And instantly it was like it just clicked. It's like somebody is writing and drawing this and making this magic come alive in my hand. And really it was kind of love at first sight for me. And it just clicked for me. And I've pursued it ever since.
[00:03:15] KM: I've heard other people call it graphic novels.
[00:03:17] MB: Yeah. A graphic novel is really just a long form of the periodical comic book, which is usually a staple bound periodical kind of disposable kind of magazine-like thing.
[00:03:28] KM: When did you think, “Oh! This could be a career.”
[00:03:32] MB: I kind of decided right away that that was going to be my career.
[00:03:34] KM: 12 years old he decides this is my career. There's a business in this.
[00:03:38] MB: Well, somebody's doing it, right? And then at the time comic books were starting to really explode. This was the late 80s and early 90s and there was a huge explosion of both creativity, but also in entrepreneurialship. Like there were people that were leaving Marvel not long after that, branching out and starting their own companies. Comic books were selling in the millions at the time. Like I kind of caught the fever right at the right time and the whole thing just lit my world on fire and the artists and creators in these – I mean I liked the comic book heroes just fine. I liked more of the storytelling process, but it was the creators that I was really – They were my real heroes. So I was really inspired by just the feats of amazing artistry, but in creativity. Not just that, but also the fact that they were combining it with entrepreneurialshiop and business acumen and doing something that they loved and generating something that was so culturally hot and resonant at the time.
[00:04:39] KM: Did you go to college for an art degree, I guess?
[00:04:41] MB: I did.
[00:04:42] KM: And then you decided to, when you graduated, you went to Harding. Harding, is that University? Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. And then when you graduated you instantly moved to New Jersey?
[00:04:53] MB: Yes. At my senior year of college, I was starting to put art my comic book portfolio together and I started traveling to comic book conventions for the first time. I mean you hear about these things now, but back then they were – You didn't hear about them quite so much.
[00:05:09] KM: Well, there wasn't the web.
[00:05:10] MB: No. Yes. I didn't have a computer.
[00:05:12] KM: It was like write for a pamphlet.
[00:05:15] MB: Yes. I mean I remember reading everything I could about how to break into the comic book industry library in the computer library, which had about maybe 10 computers in Harding U\university, and that's how you got on the internet and access to information. And I was in there all the time trying to figure out –
[00:05:30] KM: And then you call them up and you say, “How do I meet other people?” And they say come to a convention.
[00:05:34] MB: Yes, and that's what I did. So I put my portfolio together and I started traveling my senior year and then decided that if I was going to do this, I had to go and be where the publishers were, and then all the publishers were on 5th Avenue in New York City, is where Marvel was, and DC was I think on 57th Street. And they were on 60s. I forget now. But anyway, they were all in Manhattan. So I figured that's where I need to be. So I left college and moved to Cliffside Park, New Jersey, which is like right on the Palisades, next to the Hudson. It’s like as far as I could get before the rent started going crazy. But that's what I did. And then I just started ingratiating myself with –
[00:06:14] KM: Just walking around with your portfolio?
[00:06:15] MB: Yes, literally knocking on doors. Going to conventions was really what did it for me, because again I didn't have a computer. The internet was around obviously, but it's not like you had social media and you could just post your portfolio everywhere and get attention. It's much easier now to get noticed if you're an exceptional talent. Back then, you really had to do the legwork, which I kind of liked it that way, because it – I don't know. It was a fun experience.
But going to conventions, I would meet peers that were in the same boat and maybe lived in New Jersey or in the New York area.
[00:06:44] KM: Did you do sign painting? Because when I started Flag and Banner, there were a lot of sign painters. You don’t see sign painters anymore.
[00:06:47] MB: I did. Well, I didn't paint the signs, but how I fed myself for two or three or four years there is I worked at a sign company in New Jersey that did industrial signage. And so I would design signs for like industrial parks of which there are no shortage of in New Jersey, obviously, and then also would go out on the job sites and help install them with the maintenance guy or the installation guy. So it was a fun job and it helped pay the bills while I was trying to break into the comic book business.
[00:07:17] KM: And then you finally did get a job at Marvel Comics.
[00:07:20] MB: I did.
[00:07:22] KM: How long did it take?
[00:07:24] MB: I graduated college in 2000 and I really got my big break in 2005. I had hit or miss stuff in between now and then.
[00:07:32] KM: Say 5 years. He worked at it five years. How can people hear that?
[00:07:35] MB: It felt like forever.
[00:07:37] KM: 25 years.
[00:07:39] MB: Yeah. It felt like forever, but then later on I hear stories about people that waited until their 40s or whatever to like finally get in and be a success at comic books. So some people really go –
[00:07:50] KM: You’re in your 20s. So you've landed a job at Marvel Comics. What are you doing?
[00:07:57] MB: My first big break was on a book called Drax the Destroyer. So I was living in Manhattan at the time, and because it was a crazy story. If you want to hear the crazy story.
[00:08:04] KM: I love crazy stories.
[00:08:06] MB: A little old lady rear-ended my car and it was a junky old used car and the insurance company paid me out probably way more than the car was worth, and I was at the time thinking about giving up on comics, because it’d been five years and I’m like, “I've really got to go get a real job and do something else.” And so I was really thinking about hanging it up.
[00:08:23] KM: And so you got hit in the rear, like kick in the pants.
[00:08:24] MB: It was a kick in the pants. And instead of buying another car, I bought a one – I was living in Nashville at that time. I'd taken a year off to go hang out with friends and play in bands and draw on the side. So I bought a one-way plane ticket and packed two suitcases and went into Manhattan and just said, “”I've got so many thousands of dollars. Not that much. But I'm just going to go until the money runs out and risk it all.” And that's what I did. I lived in a shoebox apartment on 100th and Broadway. That was probably not much bigger than this studio right here that we're in, and it was a converted hotel room. And I went down to Chelsea and to the art store down there and I bought an air mattress and a drafting table and some paper and i just went to town.
I had a friend at the time. I knew some people in and around the comic book business. So my friend was drawing an X-Men book, and he lived in Chelsea, Sean Chen. He’s very talented, and he was in his mid-30s at the time. And he would skateboard up from Chelsea to turn his pages in at Marvel. And nobody really did that, because everybody lives kind of everywhere. But he would go and turn his pages in every Friday. So I'd call him every Thursday and tell him, “Hey, Sean. I've got three new pages. I want to show them around the office. Would you sneak me in the freight elevator?” This is after 9/11 obviously and all the buildings were really locked down and that's when they started doing the passcodes and you had to have a lanyard to get in the building. So he would sneak me in on the freight elevator to the editorial floor and I would just go in and make the rounds and stop editors if they didn't look like they were busy. If they were busy or had their doors shut, I would obviously make copies of all my new pages and I'd slide them under the door. And I just did that for about five months. And eventually I broke them down and they called me and said, “All right, you're getting better. We like your work.” And an editor called and said they wanted me to try out for this book called Drax the Destroyer. And I had no idea who this character was. He was a very obscure character at the time.
Now almost everyone who's a Marvel fan knows Drax the Destroyer, because he's one of the critical characters in the Guardians of the Galaxy film franchise. He's the guy with the tattoos played by John Batista. Is that his name? Batista? Yeah.
[00:10:42] KM: He’s not. And you're on the radio. You have to say something.
[00:10:45] GM: I'm nodding fervently.
[00:10:47] MB: Okay. I just wanted to make sure I had his name right. I'm not a big movie guy. But anyway, I got that gig. And by the second issue I started getting calls from DC Comics, because you know what it's like when you start dating a hot girl?
[00:11:02] KM: Yeah.
[00:11:02] MB: All the other girls want to give you a call. So DC starts calling me just a few months after. It's like the dam kind of broke for me. And so then I called marvel and my editor and I said, “Hey, I've been doing this for now a couple months. I really like working with you guys. It's been a lot of fun. But this is only four issues. And do I have a future beyond this? Because DC is calling me and they have some new things they're doing in the fall and they're interested in my work.” And the next day I got a call from the editor-in-chief and they offered me a two-year exclusive contract, which at the time that's kind of the thing, right? I mean that guarantees you work. It means they'll keep feeding you gigs, a contract.
[00:11:39] KM: You got a contract. Yeah, two-year contract.
[00:11:40] MB: Yeah. And so at that time, I mean of course I accepted and then I made the decision to move back to Arkansas.
[00:11:50] KM: After your two-year contract, or no?
[00:11:51] MB: No. Immediately.
[00:11:53] KM: You mean you kept the contract and got to move back to Arkansas at the same time?
[00:11:56] MB: Yeah, because you work anywhere as a comic book artist, because I just send the pages –
[00:11:59] KM: Was that because you saw the Twin Towers fall and you're like, “I'm out of here?”
[00:12:02] MB: No. Well, this is 2005, right? But I've been in and around that area for five years. So I moved there in 2000, just before – In fact, I had a view of the Twin Towers before like in my New Jersey apartment in 2000 when I moved there.
[00:12:16] KM: Did you see them fall? Were you there when –
[00:12:18] MB: I did not see them fall, although I saw all the aftermath. I was working at Starbucks on the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey. That's how I was paying the bills at the time. But that was a bizarre experience, because I always did the opening shift. So I was there at six in the morning and then kind of experienced it all by watching the insanity of like these massive military bomb trucks that I never even knew existed going over that Fort Lee Bridge. So I saw all the emergency services vehicles going over the bridge at the time, and it was quite an unforgettable experience, that's for sure.
[00:12:56] KM: All right. So before we take a break, but we're going to take one just a minute. You moved back to Arkansas and you did not meet your current wife, Elizabeth, who could not be here today because she's on a deadline for Friday, because I bet that's your whole life is just deadline, deadline, deadline.
[00:13:13] MB: Yeah, it has been.
[00:13:14] KM: So she's got a deadline. So she's a colorist and she's was going to be here. But you met her – This is dating on Squarespace.
[00:13:24] MB: No. Myspace.
[00:13:24] KM: Myspace I mean.
[00:13:26] MB: Yeah. Myspace. Yup, that's the truth. So the first thing I did –
[00:13:30] KM: But you both went to Harding.
[00:13:31] MB: Yeah. We both went to – Well, the way that happened – If she's listening, she's cringing right now. But now everybody meets online.
[00:13:40] KM: That's right. But that was kind of modern.
[00:13:42] MB: It was. But with my first paycheck at Marvel, that's when I bought my first computer. And so that was 2005 and that's when all that social media stuff was just now starting. And so I thought, “Oh, I'll check out this Myspace thing.” And so I start looking up my old friends from Harding and from the art department, and then that of kind of leads you to looking at the people that are in the art department now and just kind of checking in on professors, and then her profile kind of pops up and I'm like, “Wow! This girl is beautiful, and witty, and funny.” And I just wrote her and she wrote me back and then I was still living in the northeast at the time, but I was making plans to come back. And we corresponded for a few months until I saved up enough money to buy a car, because I was up there without a car. And so I bought a car and then drove back to Arkansas and we started dating pretty much immediately and then got married two years a year and a half later.
[00:14:36] KM: So you are an illustrator and she is a colorist.
[00:14:40] MB: Yes, but we kind of – I mean we wear so many hats. I mean that's how we got started, but now we're business owners and I'm an executive and –
[00:14:48] KM: Oh, we’re going to talk about that. Is it ruining the fun? We're going to talk about that. Don't tell us.
[00:14:52] MB: It's a different kind of fun, but yeah we'll get there.
[00:14:54] KM: All right. This is a great place to take a break, when we come back we'll continue our conversation with Mitch Breitweiser. Did I say that right?
[00:15:02] MB: Breitweiser.
[00:15:03] KM: Breitweiser, founder and creator along with his wife, Elizabeth, of Allegiance Arts and Entertainment. They are comic book illustrators, colorists and distributors of their titles Red Rooster, Norah’s Saga, The Futurists and Bass Reeves. Still to come, how they crowd-funded nearly two hundred thousand dollars on indigogo.com for their startup. The story of how they became the first comic book distributors in Walmart in a generation and the current climate of the comic book industry. Is it still a viable business? We'll be back after the break.
[00:15:36] GM: You're listening to up in your business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagonbanner.com. Over 40 years ago with only $400, Kerry founded Arkansas Flag and Banner. During the last four decades, the business has grown and changed along with Kerry’s experience and leadership knowledge. In 1995 she embraced the internet and rebranded her company as simply flagandbanner.com. in 2004 she became an early blogger. Since then she has founded the non-profit Friends of Dreamland Ballroom, began publishing her magazine, Brave. And in 2016 branched out into this very radio show, YouTube channel and podcast. And today, in 2020, Kerry McCoy Enterprises acquired ourcornermarket.com, an online company specializing in American-made plaques, signage and memorials for over 20 years.
If you'd like to sponsor this show or get involved with any of Kerry McCoy's enterprises, send an email to me, Gray. That's firstname.lastname@example.org. Telling American-made stories, selling American-made flags, the flagandbander.com. Back to you Kery.
[00:16:48] KM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. I'm speaking today with Mitch Breitweiser, founder and creator along with his wife, Elizabeth, who's at home diligently working right now on her deadline for Friday, of Allegiance Arts Entertainment. they are comic book illustrators, colorists and distributors of their titles Red Rooster, Norah’s Saga, The Futurists and Bass Reeves, and now they're business owners. Let's talk about crowd-funding for Red Rooster Golden Age. Everyone wants to crowd-fund, but few have had your success. I mean, you knocked it out of the ballpark. What do you think was your secret to raising? Let me just tell everybody, you raised nearly hundred thousand dollars, maybe two hundred thousand dollars. Did you ever hit two hundred dollars?
[00:17:29] MB: No. We're just shy of that.
[00:17:31] KM: And with about 3,500 people.
[00:17:35] MB: Yes, in $35 increments mostly. Yeah.
[00:17:40] KM: Yeah. What was it about what you were doing that just appealed to everybody?
[00:17:46] MB: It was a long runway. So we had thought – Of course we both built names for ourselves in the comic book industry. She had been nominated for several coloring awards and I had built a reputation over a number of years as I think a pretty good artist.
[00:18:03] KM: So let's back up. You got her a job at Marvel after –
[00:18:06] MB: Well, she got it herself. But I introduced her to my editors. She was a painter. So she was in the Harding art program and I met her when she was a senior in art school.
[00:18:16] KM: And she was a teacher too.
[00:18:17] MB: And then after school she got a job teaching art at the CAC school in Maumel, and she taught there for two years high school and junior high level art classes and she built their curriculum there and everything, did a great job. And she was also painting and selling her paintings at Stefano's Gallery here in the Heights in Little Rock. And that's the time when we were dating and getting married and kind of settling into our life together. And of course, I noticed that she had talent and there was a need in the comic book business for people that just were talented in color, because there're a lot of talented artists, but coloring, is it kind of a technical process? But you also have to have an eye. And there was a lot of people that could do the technical thing, but they didn't have that eye, right? I knew she had that eye.
[00:19:06] KM: It looks like watercolor kind of. And watercolor is hard.
[00:19:09] MB: Yeah. I love watercolor. But maybe I love doing what's hard, I suppose. I don't know. But she had a great career as a colorist and gained a lot of recognition for her work. I think she really changed the game in a lot of ways for coloring. So I introduced her to my editors. And over a summer, in her summer break from CAC, she taught herself how to do Photoshop, because that's what program we use primarily for artwork here and especially for coloring. So she taught herself Photoshop and I kind of learned alongside her so that I could learn it too, because I wanted to do digital work as well. And called some friends and got some coaching and all that kind of stuff from professionals that had technical expertise.
And then so I introduced her to my editors and asked them to critique her work. And I was starting a new book with uh Daniel Knauf called Captain America Zero-Point, which is an awesome comic book. If you're a fan, you want to go look that up and buy it. It's a great comic book. Daniel Knauf is the creator of the Carnivàle Show for HBO. He's a fantastic writer and a true talent. He's got another show coming out on Nickelodeon soon called The Astronauts. Be sure to check it out.
[00:20:24] KM: It sounds like a good friend of yours.
[00:20:26] MB: Yeah, he's a good guy. So I'd done some pages and I gave him to her to color as samples and she'd sent in the samples and they just hired her. They said do you want to just finish out this little mini-series?
[00:20:38] KM: She get a two-year contract also?
[00:20:40] MB: Not right away. But she did quit her teaching job. So she's like, “Okay, I'm going to do this. I'm going to quit my teaching job and not come back in the fall. And I'm going to give this a go.” And then we finished that book. And then getting the next one was a little tricky, because it was like you got to convince an editor to give you another shot or –
[00:21:00] KM: Is that when you decided, “You know, honey, let's go off on our own.”
[00:21:03] MB: No. It wasn't quite then. This was 2009-ish. But another editor gave her a shot on a book called – Oh, now I can't remember. Skaar, Son of Hulk. And she impressed and kept getting more work and then it was a few months later when she got offered her two-year exclusive contract. So then we were both under these two year exclusives and they were kind of ending and starting around the same time. And we kept that up through about 2013. At 2013 we made the decision. It's like, “Okay.” What we did was brutal. I mean she colored a lot of books I drew a lot of books. It's a very difficult hard job where you're sitting and it's a very taxing, intense focus kind of job and deadline-focused too. And we just made a decision in 2013 that we were going to go with kind of our own way and try our own thing.
[00:21:58] KM: Was there something that happened? Did you say, “I don't like doing these characters anymore.” Or were you in love with these characters and you're like, “I hate it. I'm getting a divorce. We’re losing.”
[00:22:08] MB: I don’t know. There're a lot of things. Disney had bought Marvel during that interim in a couple years before. Things were starting to change. There was a new editorial chief in charge. They started doing this thing called double shipping on the books, which made the schedules absolutely crazy. And we were burnt out, burnt out. But not only that, I had had since high school or even before that, I wanted to do my own stories. I've always had this vision.
[00:22:36] KM: You’ve had a character in your mind?
[00:22:38] MB: Not exactly. It's just a lot of things bouncing around. But while I was at Marvel, I created the Red Rooster character and The Futurists title as well with our current chief operating officer, Patrick Stiles, who's a long-time collaborator of mine and a very good writer. So we had several books actually that we wanted to do eventually. And I knew – In fact, I remember telling Patrick, because I started developing a business plan, because I was like, “We're going to leave Marvel,” and I started building what became our business plan now. But the bones of it were built way back then. And I had a list of all our properties. And I remember a phone call with him and I said, “This is gold mountain.” We have great stuff. We can do this. I've just got to figure out how to get the gold out of the mountain. And that's the tricky part.
[00:23:25] KM: And when you say properties, you're talking about the magazine characters.
[00:23:28] MB: Yeah, the titles. The titles that we're producing now and the ones we'll be doing in the future as well. We have a lot of things we want to accomplish.
[00:23:35] KM: Did Marvel get upset and think you were stealing any of their ideas?
[00:23:38] MB: No, I don't think so. They've got their own –
[00:23:40] KM: There's no non-compete problems that came up during any of that. So did you decide to crowd-fund? Did you quit first or did you crowd-fund first?
[00:23:48] MB: Well, this was in 2013. And so the crowd fund was in 2018 or 20 – Wait. I’m kind of losing it.
[00:23:55] KM: Oh! So you'd already quit your job.
[00:23:56] MB: Yeah. So we spent about five years running our own little illustration business where we worked on independent comic books. We just handled things a lot differently. With Marvel, you don't own any of the characters. Your royalties are actually quite small, if at all, because comic book sales aren't what they really used to be and they're even worse now because of the – Well, COVID interrupted the whole thing. But we decided we would take our reputations and negotiate with high-profile independent creators so that we participated more in the royalty process. We were able to write ourselves and negotiate – Write better contracts for ourselves or negotiate better contracts because we had a high – We were doing the best color in the business, and we knew it.
I was working a little bit on the side with Harper Collins and a couple other publishers just doing just independent things. And we’re trying to buy – We were both trying to buy ourselves time to start building what we thought were the foundations of a potential publishing company or at least just getting our content made. So I was working on Red Rooster stuff, Futurists stuff. That's around that time I had the Bass Reeves character it came onto my radar as well and I'm like, “I got one. I want to do a comic book about him.” And then I started analyzing, I started looking at the – I don't know. I just started thinking about it more like a business. But it took some time to go from artist to business person.
[00:25:29] KM: And so you decided to crowd-fund after five years?
[00:25:35] MB: Yeah, 2018. I've been thinking about crowd-funding for a long time.
[00:25:38] KM: And so you were talking about you've been spending five years on working and building up your stories and writing and everything, but actually I read one of your quotes, because some people got mad at you. You ended up giving some of the money back because you didn't come out with your magazines or your comic books fast enough and you said, and I assume this is what you meant, what you're talking about, you said, “Scale back. What I learned was to scale back and to get more work done in advance were two of the lessons that I learned from the Red Rooster.”
[00:26:14] MB: Yeah.
[00:26:15] KM: But it sounds like you did. You did five years of it and still didn't get it out. You’ve crowd-funded it in ’18. You still didn't get it out until ’19 or something.
[00:26:24] MB: It's not quite like that. Like we worked on coloring and other illustration projects. But the script for Red Rooster was an evolving process. I didn't really even start – I had developed a lot of designs for the characters. I built the world for the characters. All that stuff was what was done in the interim time. I didn't actually start the drawing of the book itself until essentially the crowd-funding was beyond kind of – It kind of exploded –
[00:26:54] KM: More than you thought.
[00:26:55] MB: And at the same time that the success of the crowd-funding happened, that's when all the doors started opening towards the publishing business, because all of a sudden we had this hot property and people were very interested in what we were doing. Business people started getting very interested in what we were doing. And so all of a sudden I found myself with 70 pages to draw and a script that was done, but needed a lot of work and had to be revised along the way. And drawing 70 pages is brutal.
[00:27:24] KM: Even if you do one a day, it’s three months.
[00:27:28] MB: Yeah, and you don't draw one a day. And I was building a business at the same time and pitching Walmart, and I was – Basically I found myself with – I had killed the elephant and I had to eat it one bite at a time. That's kind of where I was.
[00:27:44] KM: You’re a backwards. You did it completely backwards.
[00:27:45] MB: I did it. I did it backwards. That's for sure.
[00:27:48] KM: Let me tell everybody that you're listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy, and I'm speaking today with Mitch Breitweiser, founder and creator along with his wife, Elizabeth, who's at home working on one of these deadlines we're talking about, of Allegiance Arts and Entertainment. They are comic book illustrators, colorists, distributors and their titles are entrepreneurs, everything. Their titles are Red Rooster, Norah’s Saga, The Futurists and Bass Reeves. All right, you got to tell us the story about your presentation to Walmart. One man, one of your investors, Smith, I guess he's an investor of yours. He said the presentation blew me away and blew away the people I brought into the meeting. It was show and tell. It wasn't just a bunch of words. They had these characters outlined and drawn and colorful and bigger than life. Shark Tank like.
[00:28:36] MB: Yeah, it was. It was crazy. So we were thrown into this sort of business world, but for us it felt very natural. I had been on – In order to make the crowd funding successful. Let me back it up just a little bit. In order to make the crowd-funding successful, I had to build – I started showing my sketch. I introduced the character years before. From my sketchbook, I would do a drawing of the character. Here's something I’m thinking about doing. I’m just going to share it with you on Twitter or on Instagram or on Facebook and kind of get people familiar with my aesthetic and the world I'm trying to build. And people started responding to it.
And then I started going on YouTube channels and even do my own kind of YouTube stuff as well and just engaging on video, audio and in social media for a couple of years before this and especially in about six months to the run-up. And then s people started responding in a way, like I was honing my pitch, right? So doing that, going on YouTube, presenting to people, “I would just pitch to random people on the street if I got introduced to somebody.” And then I would read their body language. I’m like, “Are they tuning out? Is there something about my story that isn't clicking with them?” But it was this refinement of not just the character and the stories that we were trying to sell, but also the business plan.
And somewhere in that process I became like – I don't want to toot my own horn, but I became a really good pitch guy.
[00:30:05] KM: Salesman. Yeah.
[00:30:06] MB: I became a salesman, right? And it's not a skill that I really saw coming, but it’s one I had to have if I was going to make what was in my head come manifest itself in reality, right?
[00:30:18] KM: Yeah. Whoever thinks of a cartoonist as a salesman?
[00:30:22] MB: Yeah. Well, Disney maybe. And there are others, but I think you can learn that skill.
[00:30:31] KM: That's right. You just practice.
[00:30:32] MB: And I just practiced and I threw myself into that fire and it was uncomfortable and awkward and –
[00:30:38] KM: Which is why people don't do it.
[00:30:39] MB: Yes. But you get forged in that kind of fire and that's what led to, I think, the success of the campaign. I was able to pitch it, sell it to people, get them invested in the character in the world.
[00:30:53] KM: So if you gave money on your Red Rooster: Golden Age indigo.com crowd-funding site, what did you get for that besides just, “Oh good! I'm helping Mitch –”
[00:31:05] MB: Breitweiser.
[00:31:06] KM: Thank you. Breitweiser. I wish you’d spell it the way it sounds. It would help a lot.
[00:31:10] MB: The way crowd-funding works in most cases is you have like a basic package where you can just get the graphic novel and you get a couple bonuses like a sticker and a trading card and little things like that, but then there are other packages where you can get the head sketch in it.
[00:31:25] KM: But does anybody get anything for giving you money or they’re just being –
[00:31:28] MB: They get a book. No. They’re getting a book. You get a book. And if for –
[00:31:33] KM: Sign the book by you for $35.
[00:31:35] MB: Yes. And it will be a 70-page story with extra content in the back. There were other tiers that are like $40, $50 tiers where you get a head sketch and a sketchbook and you just get all these little bonus items or – It’s like they're collectibles. I mean, it’s a low print run kind of thing, right? So you're getting a low-print run set of items as well as a book that's going to be very well produced. In fact, we're working on the last three pages this week. That's part of what the deadline we’re in this week is.
[00:32:07] KM: And you had people get mad because you weren't putting it out fast enough.
[00:32:10] MB: Yes.
[00:32:11] KM: They were like, “You said I was going to get this six months ago, and I didn't get it.”
[00:32:14] MB: That's correct.
[00:32:15] KM: And people can be so ugly over the internet when they don't see you face to face.
[00:32:18] MB: That is true.
[00:32:19] KM: As we all know in business. All of us know that in business. Boy! They've got big mouths when they've got a computer between you and them.
[00:32:27] MB: And part of what we're doing is making artists – Making a comic book is very hard. I mean it's not the easiest job in the world. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
[00:32:37] KM: It looks like it ought to be easy.
[00:32:38] MB: It looks like it ought to be easy.
[00:32:39] KM: It's like, “Oh, this will be fun. Let's just throw this together.”
[00:32:41] MB: Yes. And it does, and t it will be fun, and it is fun at times, but it is a brutal, long – It's a lot of long hours in front of a screen, which I draw on a computer mostly and it takes know anywhere between 15 to 20 hours to do one page.
[00:33:00] KM: Walmart loved what you did. Gave you money, and you've become now embed with Walmart. You've got investors. But one of the reasons you became a risk taking out of your comfort zone entrepreneur was to be in control of your life and have your characters and do what you wanted to do. And now you have investors and you have Walmart probably nagging you. I don't know. How has that played out?
[00:33:24] MB: Well, it's still playing out. It's been obviously a strange year for everybody.
[00:33:28] KM: Yeah. When did this happen?
[00:33:30] MB: Well we sold to – We pitched to Walmart at the end of October in 2018.
[00:33:37] KM: Oh! It's been a while.
[00:33:38] MB: Yeah. And they said yes, and we did this with – There was no money. There was no company. There was just a vision. Can we take this idea and find a distributor and a retailer? So Walmart doesn't distribute us. Our distributor is out of Chicago, a company called Readerlink. And that's another interesting story. So we both convinced a distributor to take a gamble on us and Walmart to be our retail launch partner. And Walmart really is just – They're not an investor in our company or anything. They're really just a retailer that has given us their platform, which is a huge platform. We're in 3, 400 Walmart stores.
[00:34:17] KM: But I thought they had serious criteria you had to meet.
[00:34:21] MB: We got –
[00:34:23] KM: Leniency?
[00:34:24] MB: Well, I don't know. Well, I think it was the, well, our pitch, but also that we're aiming for the books department and it's a bit of a different – Looking back on it, it's kind of a miracle. It was like one Hail Mary pass after another for us kept getting caught. And we pitched. At the end of October, we got a meeting with the books buyer, Mr. Dylan at Walmart, and we just laid it all on the table. We had several meetings up to that to get to that point, pitching different potential investors or business people that could open the doors, maybe introduce us to someone. It was just, like I said, one Hail Mary after another, but every time we pitched someone, they're like – Like Mr. Smith that you quoted in there, Cameron Smith, who's a wonderful businessman and now an investor in our company. We walked into his office basically cold and he let us talk for like 20 minutes and then just puts his hand up and says, “Okay, I've heard enough.” And I'm like, “Uh-oh, we're going to get thrown out.” And he says, “I hear 10 of these things a week and this is by far the coolest thing I have heard in years.” It's just they were excited. Smart business people I think saw – First of all, they saw that we had their credentials and the passion.
[00:35:43] KM: That's right.
[00:35:43] MB: And that we knew what we were doing and we had the network of talented friends that we had connected in this business with for years and years.
[00:35:51] KM: Let's talk about the network of people. I mean there's a lot to do. There're a lot of people. You are the illustrator. Your wife is the colorist. Who's the writer for all of these different – Let's talk about all the characters and the collaboration with other artists. Some of them are in Canada that you collaborate with. There's Norah’s Saga. What's it about?
[00:36:11] MB: Okay. Norah’s Saga is about a contemporary teenage girl in Canada named Norah and her father, and basically she has a traumatic. She's of course a teenage girl with all kinds of teenage girl problems, right? And she goes through a trauma at the end of issue one and then finds herself catapulted into a Norse fantasy. So Norah’s Saga is meant to be like Norse saga, right? A little play on words.
[00:36:38] KM: No. What's – Oh! Norse. Oh, I get it. Okay.
[00:36:39] MB: Norah’s Saga. Yeah. So she finds herself catapulted into a Norse fantasy world in like Vinland, right?
[00:36:48] KM: And Norse Gods?
[00:36:49] MB: Yeah. It’s kind of I guess Wizard of Oz meets Vikings in short. It's Wizard of Oz meets Vikings. So she's in this fantasy world and has to use her smarts and wits and charm to win over a new set of friends that can help her find her way back home.
[00:37:07] KM: Oh! I'd love that. All right. That sounds – So who is the age of the people that read comic books? You were 12. What is your audience?
[00:37:15] MB: the audience I think it's like 12 to 65 probably. It's a very wide spectrum of readers with very wild and different tastes all the way up and down. I think really a comic book reader starts around 11 or 12, because I think your brain has to be kind of a little bit more developed. So you go from children's books to maybe young adult and then a comic book –
[00:37:45] KM: The last comic book I read was Captain Underpants.
[00:37:48] MB: Well, Captain Underpants is so huge. And that's one of the things when I started thinking about this as a business, I started looking into things like Captain Underpants and Dog Band. Comic books, the way we tell them, which is a classical comic book. I don't want to say they're sophisticated, but they're very rich characterized books that we're doing with lush art and color. They're very illustrative.
[00:38:12] KM: But the writing is not very good.
[00:38:15] MB: In ours?
[00:38:16] KM: Yes. I mean it's really simple and plain. It’s like watching an anime when they have those really simple, plains, one sentence. I know he's blushing when he I said, “In ours? What do you mean?” But I mean it's not deep writing. I mean it's like – I've read Red Rooster, and I mean it's pretty basic sentences, like comic books sentences.
[00:38:39] MB: No. It's a comic book. It's meant to be read by everybody. I'd like to think what we're doing has – I don't know. Maybe I'm totally off base here, but I'd like to think what we're doing is kind of a little more sophisticated than the average comic book.
[00:38:53] KM: The illustrations and the drawings are just mesmerizing. You can stare at the pictures and just keep continually seeing stuff. But the writing, you're like there's that bubble, there's that bubble, there’s that bubble. There're five bubbles.
[00:39:04] MB: Well, there's only so much you can do. You're not you're not writing Moby Dick necessarily. But over time, I think especially if you give our full series – These are periodicals. So if you go out and buy issue one and then issue two and then issue three that's coming out soon, I think you'll start to see that there's a well-thought-out, pre-planned, sophisticated path that these characters are following. We're very character-focused in our brand, in our company. I'd like to think maybe more so than all of our competitors.
[00:39:37] KM: How long does it take for a reader to get engaged into that character?
[00:39:41] MB: Well, I'm hoping by one issue. I feel like if we haven't got you into that character by the first issue, then we might struggle. So we really –
[00:39:51] KM: Well, I wonder what was going to happen at the end of Red Rooster.
[00:39:53] MB: Well, good. Yeah.
[00:39:54] MB: I mean I am saying the writing was pretty simple. I'm a simple reader. I was like, “Well, that's easy to read. I can read all of that.” And then I was kind of like, “Well, what's going to happen on the train?”
[00:40:04] MB: Well, that's good. Then mission accomplished, I suppose. Yeah, I should have brought your issue two so you could get the next bite out of the story. But I'd like to think what we're doing is engaging for –
[00:40:20] KM: And it goes for everyone.
[00:40:21] MB: The Futurists. Tell us what that title's about.
[00:40:24] MB: Okay. The Futurists, it is a much bigger, more kind of complicated character-driven story. A family gets caught between two or three outrageous egos that are on their quest for Shambhala. This is a cold pitch. I haven't done these pitches. I've been in the art hole for like weeks and weeks now. But it's a –
[00:40:45] KM: Shambhala. I love the name of that. I can’t believe no one’s made that word up before, Shambhala?
[00:40:50] MB: Well, it’s a real place. Shambala is Shangri-La, is what we call it. It’s been popularized. But Shambhala is the hidden mythical city in India, right? It’s the City of Legend of the Gods, I guess.
[00:41:03] KM: Oh, so you didn't make that word up?
[00:41:05] MB: No. I did not make it up. So it's these outrageous egos are on a race for Shambhala and this family gets caught in the middle of them and this veteran basically has to save his family from –
[00:41:21] KM: A military veteran?
[00:41:23] MB: Yeah. Yeah, it’s from the British military, which obviously this takes place in the 1860s, 1870s in Colonial India. So if you're into swashbuckling and romance –
[00:41:37] KM: I love that stuff.
[00:41:38] MB: Yes. So it's swashbuckling romance. It's far away adventure. It's magic and sword fighting and temples and a quest for mythical city. So it's very, very, very character-driven. And honestly, I think it's –
[00:41:54] KM: Why is it called Futurists when you’re actually in the 1800s? Because they clash together?
[00:42:00] MB: Well, it's the nature of Shambhala, really and the magic that's involved. There's a bit of time trickery involved in the plot in the storyline.
[00:42:11] KM: So Red Rooster, I read. Tell everybody what Red Rooster is about.
[00:42:15] MB: Okay. Simply it is Batman in a barn, and that's my simple pitch. So basically he doesn't have – There's a hundred thousand heroes for the cities, right? From New York, to LA, to Gotham, to Metropolis, but he’s inspired from my time growing up in Arkansas. He's a farm boy made good. So it takes place in the dust bowl era, and the Red Rooster is a guy – Frank Cooper is his name, and he inherits a mantle. It's like this mantle, like the phantom. So the phantom is a mantle that's passed down from generation to generation. He inherits it on the battlefields of World War I and comes back to the States and essentially turns – He finds himself from unknown farm boy to international or national folk hero, a costume folk hero. And his fame quickly eclipses his noble – The noble mission of the Red Rooster and the Order of the Dawn, which is his secret society.
[00:43:22] KM: And people want to undermine him.
[00:43:25] MB: Well, yeah, and in a way he undermines himself. So he has this team that he works with and that's part of what the book is about. And really the book starts at the height of his fame where he's the spokesman for a soda brand and everyone is famous and they have movie serials about them. They have radio shows and they're like – It's kind of a statement on pop culture as we see it today, but how it developed in the 30s, the dust bowl era. And at the height of his fame, it kind of all comes crashing down. And that's really where the character picks up in the Red Rooster book. And of course it's my personal favorite, because –
[00:44:06] KM: I can tell you like that one.
[00:44:08] MB: Yeah. Well, it's the one I draw and it's the one that I co-wrote and created.
[00:44:11] KM: Do you not draw all of them?
[00:44:12] MB: No. I do not.
[00:44:12] KM: That's the collaboration you do with everybody.
[00:44:15] MB: Yeah. So we contract other artists like Butch Guice. Butch Guys does The Futurists. And he is, Butch Guice, if anything, you should pick it up, because he's a living legend. He's an American illustrator, par excellence.
[00:44:30] KM: Yeah. He puts pictures of people behind. You can see shadowy pictures in the back. He's really good. All right, we're going to run out of time here. I have to ask you about Bass Reeves. Loosely based on the US Marshall from Fort Smith, Arkansas.
[00:44:43] MB: Yeah. I mean Bass Reeves is a not well enough known yet American hero. So he was born a slave, escaped during the Civil War. Made a name for himself in Indian territory during reconstruction as a tracker. Learned several languages and as a bounty man eventually. And then became so feared at it and so good at it that he was eventually deputized by Isaac Parker, the hanging judge, out of Fort Smith. And became the probably the most legendary lawman in world history. He holds the record for most arrests in history. Over three thousand outlaws –
[00:45:23] KM: So he’s a real guy?
[00:45:25] MB: A real guy with an incredible story.
[00:45:28] KM: But is Bass Reeves his real name?
[00:45:29] MB: Yes. Bass Reeves is his real name.
[00:45:31] KM: So you didn't make up a fictitious name around this guy? You are actually –
[00:45:33] MB: No.
[00:45:35] KM: Okay. But then the stories about him are going to be fictitious or embellished.
[00:45:38] MB: They're embellished. Yeah. So it is a comic book. So this isn't a biography or anything like that. We are taking elements of his life that we feel really defined the man and made him a real hero and we're just amplifying those things.
[00:45:54] KM: What do you want to happen to your characters in the future?
[00:45:57] MB: I just want more and more people to read them. Really, I mean that's it.
[00:46:00] KM: What happens when – I mean how far out can you carry a character?
[00:46:06] MB: I think a character is also an archetype. And an archetype has only so many stories I think they can tell. At least that's how I feel.
[00:46:17] KM: It’s like every TV show. It can only run for so long.
[00:46:21] MB: It can only go for so long. I mean things like Superman run forever and Batman run forever, but a lot of it is the same stories being told the same way over and over again with different eras.
[00:46:30] KM: Because we’re older. Yeah, we're all older. It's a different group of people.
[00:46:33] MB: Yeah, different aesthetics, different generation. They just retell it in different ways.
[00:46:36] KM: That's the way it is with all storytelling.
[00:46:38] MB: Yes. Yeah, absolutely.
[00:46:39] KM: Let me tell everybody that you're listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy and I’m speaking today with Mitch Breitweiser, founder and creator along with his wife, Elizabeth, of Allegiance Arts and Entertainment. Their comic book illustrators, colors and distributors of four different titles. So how do people get your comic books? Because I went to Walmart and I could not find it.
[00:47:00] MB: Yeah. They're getting harder to find right now. So we had two issues out over the summer and I don't know that they're sold out. They're still available in some markets, although there's less and less of them. We're working on the next release right now. They are available on our – If you go to our website, allegiancearts.com, that's allegiancearts.com. We have a link on the website. It’ll take you to walmart.com and you can buy them from walmart.com. The listings are a little bit messed up and we're working on that with the listings people.
[00:47:37] KM: Well, I wish I would have done that, because you cannot buy them at amazon.com. And if you go in there and you just Google your name and you Google the titles of your name – Gray. Son, Gray, be sure and put this link on Mitch and Elizabeth, the Allegiance Arts on our website if anybody wants to listen to this podcast. Be sure and put it there so that everybody won't have the problems that I had trying to get it.
[00:48:03] MB: Sign up for our mailing list on allegiancearts.com or follow us on social media like Instagram or Facebook and we'll definitely let you know when the new releases are coming out.
[00:48:11] KM: Oh, I’m going to do that.
[00:48:13] MB: You can buy digital versions of the comic book if you just want to sample them real quick, and you can do that on our website as well.
[00:48:20] KM: So there's a lot of geeks out there that love comic books. I had no idea that there is a huge lakes international comic arts festival in Kendall, Great Britain that people can go to.
[00:48:33] MB: Well there's everywhere, everywhere. Even in Little Rock has one. Conway has an amazing comic book show.
[00:48:42] KM: I guess you probably tell everybody that if they sign up to follow you on Facebook and stuff. You kind of post that stuff.
[00:48:48] MB: We haven't. We don't do shows that much anymore. Well, nobody does shows. All the shows were canceled, right. ‘
[00:48:51] KM: You don’t have time.
[00:48:52] MB: We haven't had time since we started the company. All the shows were – Pretty much all comic book shows have been canceled, but I think that'll obviously change in next year with the vaccine and everything. So people will start going out to shows. And we will go to exhibit in them as well. So we really –
[00:49:06] KM: And you love this work. We're almost out of time. You love this work of illustrating and drawing. Has owning your own business taking you away from what you love? That’s your last question.
[00:49:16] MB: I mean I have to go back and stay up all night to finish a deadline. So I am very much engaged in the art process and will always be, although I've come to the realization over the course of this year that I have to step back. I have to go and –
[00:49:32] KM: Which part are you going to step back from?
[00:49:33] MB: I'm probably going to step back from the day-to-day grind of drawing the actual comic book. I will probably participate more in the writing and layouts.
[00:49:40] KM: Have you the book The E-Myth?
[00:49:42] MB: The E-Myth? No. I never have.
[00:49:44] KM: You just described what the book The E-myth says. I recommend you read The E-Myth. II says you may love to make pies, but if you want to become a pie-making business owner, you have to quit making pies.
[00:49:55] MB: Yeah. That stuff. I have to quit making pies. My wife and I both. So we're hiring. We're looking for awesome talent to replace ourselves and to help us create –
[00:50:06] KM: Hear that, people? And you don't have to be in Little Rock, Arkansas. You can be anywhere to do it.
[00:50:13] MB: Anywhere, yeah.
[00:50:13] KM: That's great for COVID. Thanks for coming. Here's your gift. I think since you went to Harding, I got you a Christian flag for your desk set, your US flag and your Arkansas flag. You said you come to Flag and Banner and that you need a new flag. So come on down.
[00:50:26] MB: I do need a new flag.
[00:50:26] KM: Tell Elizabeth we're so sorry we missed her, and I hope we catch her next time. I want to say to our listeners, thank you for spending your time with us. We hope you've heard or learned something that's been inspiring or enlightening, and that it, whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence, your life. I'm Kerry McCoy and I'll see you next time on Up in Your Business.
[00:50:46] GM: You've been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. For links to resources you heard discussed on today's show, go to flagandbanner.com, select radio and choose today's guest. If you'd like to sponsor this show or any show contact me, Gray. That's email@example.com. All interviews are recorded and posted the following week. Stay informed of exciting upcoming guests by subscribing to our YouTube channel or podcast wherever you like to listen. Kerry's goal is simple, to help you live the American dream.