Albert the Alien is back for another round.
Trevor Mueller’s character, the first exchange student from another planet, debuted in an educational anthology before getting spun off into a popular webcomic in 2013. The webcomic was collected into Albert’s first trade paperback, “Albert the Alien Vol. 1: New In School,” in 2014. Now Mueller is taking Albert back to Kickstarter for the second volume of his adventures, “The Substitute Teacher From Planet X,” and joined Project Shanks.com to talk about the book, Kickstarter, and cartoons.
Reid Kerr: Thanks for taking a couple of minutes for Project Shanks.com, you’ve already had one successful Kickstarter for the first volume of Albert the Alien, now you’re coming back for the second round. Is this Kickstarter less nerve-wracking than the first one?
Trevor Mueller: I thought this second Kickstarter effort would be less stress (and hopefully, a little less work) than the previous. Nope, I was wrong there. But perhaps that’s more aligned with my own nature and expectations than the reality of how the platform works.
My experience with Kickstarter, funding comes in fits and spurts. Typiclaly the first and final week are your strongest. During our first week this year, we made about 33% of our total goal. There’s a lot of hype and you get the loyal fanbase to jump right in and try to get the rewards that have a limited volume first.
During weeks 2-3, you get a lot of what I call “the trickling effect.” People come in because they hear about it from somewhere, and they like the project. These weeks tend to be the new fans or people who heard about the project through someone else, and they want to check it out.
The final week will be filled with people who were waiting to see if it could get funded, or who wanted to be the person that puts it over the top. We had that last year, too, and it was awesome when it happened. But the whole time we were waiting for it to happen, I was on the edge of my seat.
Reid: How great was the feeling when the first volume’s Kickstarter came through, and you were able to take this character you’ve written in several forms of media all the way into print? Was it a dream to be able to hold the book in your hand after seeing it on the screen for so long?
Trevor: It was one of the greatest feelings ever when volume 1 got funded. We had put so much effort into the book, into the video, and into the Kickstarter that by the time we reached the end, it was a huge weight lifted. Kickstarter is a project that you put out there, so it’s a little nerve wracking to see if it will find a loyal following. You hope that there are enough interested people to help support and fund the project. And when that happens – man, it’s awesome. But there is a better feeling.
I do a lot of self-publishing. When I had just printed my first book and was holding it in my hands, I asked a good friend and fellow comic creator friend of mine, “Is there any better feeling than holding a book you made in your hands?” And he said, “Yes there is. Seeing someone else with a copy of your book in their hands while they wait in line to buy it.” He wasn’t wrong. And that’s what Kickstarter provides – an opportunity to put the book in the hands of people who love and support the project. And that’s probably the best feeling in the world.
Reid: Albert the Alien is a wonderful webcomic. It’s funny, it’s warm, and it seems like there’s something in there for everybody. Is it a challenge writing for kids and adults, and crafting something that’s interesting to both?
Trevor: Awww, thanks. Albert is a ton of fun to write and work on. Writing an all-ages book is a unique challenge because you want to tell a story that appeals to adults, but that’s also appropriate for younger readers. However, I’ve found that writing stories for kids is also quite liberating. Kids tend to be more open to the fantastic, and so my imagination can come up with fun and wacky scenarios for the characters to deal with.
In volume 2, for example, Albert takes his first field trip on Earth and has to do battle with an evil mummy king. I’ve found that telling stories like this tends to be very nostalgic for the adult readers we have, since it reminds them of watching cartoons when they were growing up. And the kids love it because you get a story about an alien trying to defeat an evil mummy king!
Reid: You’ve said before that you really loved Saturday morning cartoons. Were there any of your favorites that you can see influenced Albert the Alien?
Trevor: I don’t know that any one show influenced Albert the Alien. I remember back in the day that cartoons told a fun adventure story, and they had a moral or a public service announcement (PSA) at the end. Some kind of lesson that was important for kids to learn. I try to do a little of that with Albert.
Albert has strong themes around friendship and anti-bullying messages, so it’s important to me to include a little message in there with the adventure. The message is usually related to the theme of the tale – be it around peer pressure, sticking up for your friends, or dealing with conflict. But our focus is always on telling a fun story, first and foremost.
If I had to compare Albert to any cartoons, I’d say he’s like Phineas and Ferb meets Jimmy Netron. It’s wacky alien adventures at school and at home, that are fun and funny and warm your heart.
Reid: Was there a comic book or a strip that you read when you were younger that made you think, “I want to do this?”
Trevor: I read a lot of comics growing up, and all of them helped influence me. I loved the action of X-Men, the intrigue of Batman, the hilarity and wit of Calvin and Hobbes, and the inginuity and style of the Image books.
I read just about any comic I could get my hands on when I was younger, but the first series I remember collecting was the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. I loved the cartoon, but this comic series was so different. It still had the crazy stories and the characters I enjoyed, but it was stylistically and tonally very different. This was fascinating to me to see the differences between the cartoon (which I admit to having discovered before the comic), and this darker edgier comic series.
Basically, I fell in love with storytelling and visual narrative, and I’ve been making comics ever since.
Reid: When you’re doing a webcomic and you only release a page every Wednesday and Friday, does it affect the way you pace your story?
Trevor: It does. I always try to end my pages on a joke or a cliffhanger. With a print comic, you typically try to make a cliffhanger every odd numbered page. The reason for this is because odd numbered pages are the pages you have to turn, and your job as a writer is to get the reader to want to turn the page. But in the web it’s a little different. You have readers returning weekly or monthly or whenever they get the chance, and you want to entice them to read more. Either going back to the beginning, or coming back next time the story updates.
Doing it this way definitely makes for a more exciting story overall, especially when it is finally collected in print. The readers have really enjoyed it.
Reid: What’s next for you and Albert after Volume 2 of Albert the Alien? More Albert? Are there any other projects in the works?
Trevor: Definitely more Albert! I’ve already started work on volume 3 (which will be called “Homelife,” and will show Albert’s life on Earth outside of school for a bit). We’re going to have some fun adventures, like:
— “Bring your kids to work day,” where Albert and his friend Gerty get launched into space!
— Albert’s first sleepover, where he gets his friends stuck inside a video game!
— And also Albert’s first Halloween, where he accidentally turns his friends into the monsters they’re dressed up as!
In fact, we have some rewards to get drawn into some of these stories in our current Kickstarter.
Other than Albert, I have a couple of older reader titles I’m also working on that will be out later this year. I’m doing an older readers story called “Los Ojos,” which is about a hitman who doesn’t see people when he looks his targets in their eyes – he sees angels or demons.
I try to produce a handful of self-published work every year, and also a few stories that are published by other people. I did a short story earlier this year called “The Fan,” which is about a woman with supernatural powers and an unhealthy obsession with the lead singer of a band. We made the story intentionally short so we could include a bit of a “how to make comics” in the back. It includes all of my notes, beat sheets, outlines, and script pages. As well as my artist’s layouts, pencils, and inks. This way, readers can see how a comic book gets made.
I have a few short stories coming out later this year as well, and hopefully some bigger projects I can’t talk about just yet. But soon!
Thanks to Trevor Mueller for sitting down with Project Shanks.com. Trevor can be found online at www.AlbertTheAlien.com, and the second volume of Albert’s adventures is currently up on Kickstarter.
– Reid Kerr talks a lot, as his wife likes to remind him. He is also an award-losing writer whose first book, “The Great Texas Trailer Park Escape” is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com.