Zinester Spotlight: Ben Costa

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Ben Costa is a Xeric Award winning comic writer and artist who currently lives in San Jose.  His ongoing project is a historical fiction comic called Pang, The Wandering Shaolin Monk, which he updates twice a week on his website.

Where do you get your ideas?

Even though that's normally a ridiculous question, for Pang, which is historical fiction, I actually have an answer. I get a lot of ideas from reading about Chinese history. Either some factoid or story will immediately jump out at me, or I'll need to look something up for accuracy, and then I'll be inspired by another thing completely unrelated while I was looking for the first thing.

I've seen you at SF Zine Fest for the last 4 or 5 years.  What do you like about that show that keeps you coming back?

Zine Fest is a good, low key, low overhead show for me where I don't have to worry too much about anything. I just need to show up with some stuff and try to sell it. I like the fact that people can just walk in off the street. My stuff probably doesn't fit in that well with everyone else's stuff, but maybe that's a good thing.

You have a website and attend yearly shows.  What other ways have you found to advertise your work and get your books out to the public?

When I put my first book out in 2010, it got distributed to comic shops through Diamond. That helped a bit, but it wasn't like I was putting huge numbers with them by any stretch of the imagination. The webcomic is probably the best way to get my comics in front of people. In 2011, I went to around 15 conventions all over the country. I've attended way less since then so I could focus more on finishing Pang Vol. 2, but I'll be doing the gamut of conventions again when the book is out this summer.

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You won the Xeric Comic Book Self-Publisher Award and were able to print the first part of your comic Pang, The Wandering Shaolin Monk.  Tell me about that experience.  Were there any surprises in seeing your online pages in printed form?  Any Disappointments?

Winning the Xeric was awesome. I have nothing but gratitude for the Xeric Foundation. And I'm very pleased with how the first volume came out. The whole process of printing a book myself and selling it is still an ongoing learning experience. I'm still trying to figure out if I can make self-publishing work. So on that front there have been disappointments, mainly because I'm not at all close to making a living solely from comics!

Pang, The Wandering Shaolin Monk is your big work which you publish weekly on your website.  Tell me more about it.

From now until Vol. 2 is complete, the site updates twice a week! The story is set in 17th century China, and it's about a Shaolin monk named Pang whose temple has been destroyed by the Qing dynasty. It's very rooted in Shaolin history and legend, but the main plot of the story is that Pang thinks a couple of his brothers might have escaped his temple as well, so his goal is find them. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Pang, a group of Qing soldiers is after one of the books from his temple. Aside from that, the meat of the story deals with Pang's trials and tribulations as a sweet, naive monk living outside of the temple for the first time in his life. It's a constant struggle for the guy. He becomes smitten with a girl, he's constantly confronted by corrupt individuals, and he's forced to beat people up all the time!

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As a DIY comic maker, you have great freedom in the content of your books and the way in which they are printed and distributed.  If you had the chance to have 'Pang' published, I assume you'd jump at it.  Am I wrong?  Any regrets you think you might have in having to compromise with the concerns of a publishing company?

I don't know if I'd jump at the chance to be published by any old publisher. I've heard enough stories about people who get a single mediocre check from a book that, from the outside looking in, appeared to be pretty successful. I'm able to make that kind of money on my own. Of course, there's the benefit of being published to lead to other opportunities down the line. But for Pang, I'd rather just do it myself at this point, unless a large book publisher was interested. But I'm fairly certain that won't happen. And that's okay, Tom. That's okay. *cries*

For more of Ben's work, and daily Pang, The Wandering Shaolin Monk adventure, visit shilongpang.com.