Something about the passion in the man, the sincerity in his words resonated with me. He stood there humbly, gave gratitude for the motivation Kevin Smith had given so many, and explained that he went out and did something about it.
Joe gifted Kevin and co-host Marc Bernardin with a copy of his creator-owned baby Identity Stunt. He explained eloquently what it was about, and you know what? The premise was pretty original…and cool. Not in that “trying to be clever” way either, it was effortless. A good idea is a good idea, and a passionate comic book fan is a man after my own heart.
I had to know more about this person and his dream.
I got in touch with him quickly (social media is a wonder like that). If nothing else, I had to congratulate him on his efforts and personally thank him. Hearing him speak on his dreams for a moment amongst our sometimes-enclosed community of fandom, it was inspiring in a small, but significant way.
His response proved that his humility and sincerity was no act. This guy wasn’t just putting on some hustle to get his stuff out there. I mean, there’s no doubt Joe has hustle, everybody needs some to make it somewhere. He was just as genuine in conversation:
“Hi there! Thanks so much for reaching out, it really means a lot to me. My passion burns even brighter thanks to you & others who have reached out to me with well wishes. I’m truly grateful”
His reply was full of enthusiasm and excitement. He then gifted me a digital copy of his work. Yes, this could be hustle again. But it felt like more than just that. It was one comic book fan saying, “Check this out, hope you like it” in the purest way possible. That really is the unifying thread of our sub-culture.
He followed up a little while later to see if I’d received it. By that time, I’d read the issue and I really enjoyed it, it was a hell of a good time.
We spoke briefly about the art. I told him this would have been tailor-made for the Cliffhanger imprint back in the day. It was current, but had a real 90’s atmosphere about it. There were some new titles the “big two” were putting out at the time that were failing to capture what Joe had succeeded in doing with issue one of Identity Stunt.
He was ever gracious in his replies and we briefly toasted to 90’s influences.
We went back and forth sporadically over the “Lethal Weapon meets Unbreakable” style of the book.
After some time, Joe checked in on me and offered me a digital copy of issue two.
Now, I’m not some maven of social media. Some Harry Knowles-style powerbroker or influencer of pop culture. I’d like to be. We’d all like to be. But there was no real benefit to Joe reaching out like this.
I have a Comixology account. But where I am in Australia, the hard copy issues of Identity Stunt wouldn’t be accessible to me. Joe didn’t care about that. Giving, real giving, is when you give freely. Maybe you can hope the person you bestow generosity to can pay it forward, but you give without expectation.
We had some banter over things I’d ribbed him about in issue one. I thanked him again.
He offered to send me (global shipping is an evil bastard, so this was a huge gesture) a physical copy of issue one. I couldn’t do it. He told me Jimmy Palmiotti’s thoughts on issue one. Jimmy Palmiotti has been a legend right from Event Comics days through to coming into his own as a writer. I love his and Justin Gray’s Jonah Hex especially. But do you think Joe Khachadourian was namedropping or boasting? Not for a second. It was all in the spirit of humility, appreciation, and education.
I asked him how the hustle was going of promoting the book, the creative journey?
He was earnest in his response
“The hustle can certainly be a hustle man. Marketing has been pretty hard to stay on top of with a day job and two kids. Add editing issue three and four on top of it. But it’s been an amazing journey, worth every sleepless night and grumpy moment.”
He was off to Silicon Valley Comic Con that weekend and he signed off with a wide-eyed, optimistic, “who knows what wonders lay in wait there?”
The next time I spoke with Joe, he gushed with fanboy excitement that the very same artist of Shadow Hawk had lent his pencils to the cover of Identity Stunt #2. We spoke about the change of artists between issues. We spoke about Easter eggs in the book. A mutual appreciation for Saved by the Bell and The Big Lebowski.
And then he shared with me a one-page story he had printed in Transformers more than 10 years ago.
I asked if, at the time, that one-page story felt like the holy grail to him. If he never came to Identity Stunt, would he still have been just as appreciative that somewhere there was a comic book with his name in the credits?
Like any creative type, he lamented the faults of the story rather than rest on the achievement. It was more humility and sincerity from a guy who had made that his calling card. He spoke about the difficulty of telling a single page story, a sentiment I’d also heard echoed by Grant Morrison to Kevin Smith in one of his excellent interviews on Fatman on Batman.
He told me his dream was to be a showrunner on a Transformers cartoon. If you’ve read this far and I’ve gotten across to you how good a human being Joe is, you have to think the man deserves a shot at that.
He offered me this sage advice from where he was at:
“Just finish something. That’s the biggest hurdle, telling a complete story. Then make sure a decent artist draws it. The better the art the more likely it is to get noticed, even these days. That’s basically it. After that, you’ll most likely get picked up by a digital first publisher, even something like Comixology submit works wonders. Print out small print runs of the books to sell online and in cons and that’s basically it.
“It does cost money, but it doesn’t have to. The only requirement is that the final product look professional. The grunge art days of the 80s and 90s are gone. In any case, complete the story first. Everything else falls into place.”
That’s basically it. It sounds idealistic, doesn’t it? I think what Joe underrates is his own drive and work ethic that got him to where he was. Maybe even some hustle?
Curious about how someone breaking in interacts with editors, I asked him for his thoughts on the role they play in a creator-owned endeavour. Candidly, he admitted:
“…that would depend on the editor. I would say it’s always helpful. Especially for typos, ha-ha! Also, things make sense to the writer that don’t always make sense to the reader.”
Not long after, I checked in with Joe to see how issue three and the hustle were getting along.
In the tradition of Peter Parker or Buddy Baker he admitted:
“man, promoting an indie comic while also trying to sell my house was a terrible idea”
And then he sent a copy of #3 my way,
Although he was clearly stressed (life does that to you even when you’re chasing your dreams), he was still courteous enough to me to ask how I was and stop for a brief chat.
Christmas came and went and early in the new year, I got a chance to read issue 4, the conclusion of the series (for now).
We talked about the issue and the trade (that was coming in February and would be available on Amazon.com).
Despite the bumps in the road, Joe’s focused on putting out more work. In something that is virtually unheard of in this age of getting accosted on Twitter, Joe asked me, as a reader, what could he could improve on from Identity Stunt.
The creative field and opening yourself up to criticism are on the same difficulty level as public speaking and taking a bullet to the knee. But Joe Khachadourian is serious about his work and, like the best creative types, constantly seeks improvement.
He let me speak on the weight of expectation people and their subjectivity bring to a read, and how that gets in the way of a good time.
He teased a few clues on what might be coming next for his characters and I just had one more question about Markosia. It was regarding the publisher who put out Identity Stunt:
“Markosia has been great! Extremely kind, supportive, and generous. They’re a slightly bigger name in the U.K. than they are in the U.S. and have different distribution channels, so I’m taking on a “retailer outreach” role as well, which gives me the opportunity to get some talk time with comic store owners across the country, and that has been a blast in and of itself.”
Like I told Joe, he gives hope to everyone like me that just wanted to contribute to an industry they loved. Even if it was a Ray Palmer-sized footprint. To read about his journey, to see how accessible he was willing to be, how appreciative he was of his position, and how much he was willing to give back in turn. The humility of the guy. The fact he made time in an already busy family-driven life to pursue his dreams and still produce quality work to boot.
The fruits of his work, dream, and his story connected with me all the way in Australia. It inspired me to get deeper into my writing. Joe doesn’t know this, but he played a big part in me self-publishing two children’s books in 2018. He was a huge reason I’ve polished draft after draft of my own scripts for a creator-owned idea I’ll be shopping around in the coming years. Joe’s inspiration is the reason I had my first article published by PopCultHQ.
I’m guessing if he does ever find out, he’ll play it down with humility and sincerity.
The industry needs to see more work like Identity Stunt; beyond that, it needs more people contributing to its foundations like Joe Khachadourian.
This why supporting the independents is so crucial; if guys like this succeed, we all succeed.
Joe Khachadourian will be appearing at Hill Country Comic Con March 16-17th in New Braunfels, TX.
Identity Stunt TPB available now at the following links:
Creator and Writer Joe Khachadourian:
Joe Khachadourian is a writer, concept creator, and graphic fiction evangelist living in Austin, Texas. Formerly an Executive Editor at MightyVille.com – A Comics Website, Joe has contributed to various websites and periodicals over the years, along with a number of comic book anthologies, including IDW Publishing’s Transformers: Mosaic. A recipient of several awards in journalism and playwriting, Joe’s decided to make the dive into the world of creator-owned comics with Identity Stunt. A lifelong comic book reader, this is the project his entire creative career has been building to and he’s thrilled to have you along for the ride.