Like most superheroes, Barbra and Bryant Dillon lead double lives. By day, they work regular 9-to-5 jobs in marketing and account coordinating. But by night (and on weekends and lunch breaks), they transform into their not-so-secret identities: co-founders of the indie comic book publisher Fanbase Press.
Since 2010, the Dillons' company has released 10 publications, including the 2018 Eisner-nominated bilingual comic Quince, and the 2014 Bram Stoker Award-nominated Fearworms: Selected Poems. And while the publications themselves are great accomplishments, the Dillons' superpowers go beyond putting out comics.
"We really built an audience by supporting other people, supporting other creators through daily reviews, interviews, and podcasts," Barbra told SYFY WIRE. "We had a juxtaposition of both being a publisher as well as being a supporter and giving a voice to other creators. We realized it was a unique model, but it worked really well for us."
And this model continues to work well for the Dillons, who have seen and learned a lot over the past nine years, including the realization that working hard on something you're passionate about is a reward in itself. "It's like many things in life," Bryant explains. "It's more about the journey than the end goal."
And the Dillons' origin story, the journey of how and why they started their company, is worth telling. It's a chance for the rest of us to not only peek inside the world of indie comic book publishing but also to be inspired to become our own superhero, someone who supports their fan communities and acts as a geek force for good.
The Dillons, who started dating in college, launched their company along with co-founder Sam Rhodes in 2010 after the three of them moved to Los Angeles from the East Coast.
"We were working in different facets of the entertainment industry," Barbra recalls. "We saw the business side of things in Los Angeles but really wanted to continue pursuing the artistic and creative side of things. We started with a script Bryant and [Sam Rhodes] wrote, and were actually doing a short film, but given the financial limitations of making a film and given our love of comic books, we all thought, 'Why don't we adapt this into a graphic novel?'"
The co-founders released that graphic novel, Something Animal, in early 2011, a little over a year after they founded the company under the name Fanboy Comics. The first publication was an immense learning process, and the Dillons got through it by talking to others in the indie community as well as through reading books like How To Self-Publish Comics: Not Just Create Them and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel. It was the relationships they established, however, that really helped them grow their business.
"It's about being friendly," Bryant says. "About getting to know people in the community and having an honest relationship with them, so that you can chat about things like the weather or the latest convention or the comic you both like. That will lead to what networking is supposed to do, whether it's to get you a job or connect you to another opportunity."
It was at one of these cons, in fact, where the Dillons met Sebastian Kadlecik, creator of Quince and an earlier Fanboy publication, Penguins Vs. Possums. "They were at a table right next to me," Kadlecik recalls. "We just started talking, and they were such the nicest most encouraging people…I was really impressed with their work ethic. They never sat down, they were always standing up, always engaging people, always positive. I felt so drawn to them as creatives and also as humans."
FROM FANBOY COMICS TO FANBASE PRESS
In 2015, Rhodes left the company to pursue other creative endeavors, and the Dillons decided it was a good time to take stock and revisit their name and what their company stood for. "It gave an opportunity for Bryant and myself to really investigate what's important to us, about this company and what the future of it would be," Barbra explains. "When you heard our company name we wanted it to be something that was welcoming to everyone, and so the name Fanboy Comics really needed to change... we landed on Fanbase Press not only because we celebrate fanbases of all kinds, but because we are a press as a publisher, and we do press as a media outlet, and we wanted to expand beyond being a comic book publisher to encapsulating the many different facets of our company."
The company rebranded in May 2016, and it's this focus on inclusivity — on fostering a space where anyone and everyone can celebrate their fandoms — that makes Fanbase Press exceptional. It's what drew Kadlecik to reach out to the Dillons about publishing Quince, and it's what they bring to all their publications, right up to their most recent release, The Sequels, a four-issue action-adventure comic book series exploring '80s nostalgia that will be digitally released this month, and will have a print trade paperback available in July 2019.
HARD WORK AND POSITIVITY: THE PILLARS OF FANBASE'S SUCCESS
Two of the Dillons' superpowers — the commitment to working hard, and the focus on staying positive even when things are tough — are integral to the company's overall success.
The first element — working hard — is an obvious requirement for any endeavor. Kadlecik explains how it's especially important in the indie comic world: "It's a lot of work to get an independent book seen by people. The fact Quince was nominated for an Eisner Award, I put a lot of that credit to Fanbase Press making sure we were known about... they put in so much time and work and care, and they truly expressed how much they cared about it and how important it was to them. That meant the world to me."
Working hard is taxing, of course, especially when one has to balance it with a day job. "I don't feel like anyone I know feels like they are actually balancing it," Bryant admits. "It's a lot of focusing on making sure I maintain enough personal time, keeping relationships strong and knowing your limits…the one big advantage is having a structured schedule. We keep a lot of 'To Do' lists. We try to plot things out… we try to have a guidepost of what we're accomplishing to keep us on track."
And then there's the Dillons' focus on kindness, the thing that makes all that hard work worth the effort. "I'm a big fan of Mr. Rogers," Barbra explains. "My favorite quote of his is 'There are three ways to ultimate success: The first is to be kind, the second is to be kind, and the third is to be kind.' And we hold that to be true in everything that we do in our personal lives, in our business lives, and in the work we do with our creators... if you hold those things to be true in the work that you do, you get a more genuine product, you get a more fulfilling experience in doing it, and it simply never hurts to be kind and thoughtful to those you're working with."
WHAT'S NEXT FOR FANBASE?
Moving forward, the Dillons will continue to work hard and to be kind as they stay true to their passion — welcoming, supporting and celebrating creators and fans of all kinds. "When we look at what's coming down the road, we see an opportunity to be that available alternative, somewhere everyone feels welcome, where there is a celebration of fandom in a genuine way," Bryant says. "We really love the idea of 'Hey, everyone is welcome to the table, everyone can come inside the fanbase.' It's a party where everyone's invited. We just want to be a place of positivity and excitement and fun."