Going it alone: why being your own boss isn't for the faint hearted

Doppelganger publishing

AJ Lieberman and Darren Rawlings teamed up to go independent

Launched in 2014, Doppelgänger publishing is the home for high concept creator-owned books. Created by veteran comic writer AJ Lieberman and esteemed animator and illustrator Darren Rawlings, Doppelgänger has been a way for the pair to secure creative control.

Ahead of the release of their first book, Deep Soul, we caught up with AJ and Darren to hear how they set up their own publishing house.

How did you get started in the industry?

AJ: "I was fortunate to start my career at DC Comics. I had sold a screenplay to Warner Bros. who owns DC and through an executive there I met Dan DiDio who, at the time, ran DC.

"I then went to work with the great and all-powerful Bob Schrek who ran the Bat Group. My first book was Harley Quinn and from there I branched out to other titles.

"DC was blast but after a few years I wanted to try my hand at the creator owned thing, so I went to Image. My first book was Cowboy Ninja Viking which did really well and I sold to Disney (and then to Universal). I followed that with Term Life, a noir graphic novel."

Deep Soul

Deep Soul is the company's first book

Darren: "I personally run my own animation/motion graphics studio, Thinkmore studios.

"Being your own boss and creating the things you want to create is, I believe, in the heart of every artist."

How did you find each other?

AJ: "I was looking for the right artist for my children's books and I came across the exact look I was going for. So I reached out to the artist who was, wait for it.... Darren Rawlings.

"Darren and I put pitch pages together for what would become The Silver Six which we sold to Scholastic. If you're doing children's graphic novels Scholastic is like, the only place you want to be.

"Darren and I found that we worked very well together. And, maybe more importantly, we have a very similar work ethic."

Darren: "Don't get us wrong though, AJ and I are in fact 'human' and do get burned out, but the trick is pressing forward through those creative struggles and sticking to your vision. Surprisingly, we've never met in person!"

Why did you go independent?

AJ: "Both of us enjoy creating stuff and we want control over those creative endeavours. We want to make all the decisions. The covers, the layout, the design. We both love all that stuff.

"We realised we could start our own company and not have to rely on other people to say "yes" or "no" to our book ideas. Having said that, setting up the company was probably harder than doing our first book."

The Silver Six

AJ and Darren's first book, The Silver Six, published by Scholastic

Darren: "For me I had to add a family to the mix while simultaneously starting another company with AJ. It takes a certain level of dedication, hard work, and an ability to stay creative when you sometimes feel you got nothing left.

"It definitely isn't for the faint of heart, but I highly recommend it!"

What can we expect from Doppelgänger?

AJ: "So, Deep Soul is Doppelgänger's first book. And it should be said a major factor in how good the book came out is due to Tom Rhodes, the books artist/colourist.

"As for what's next, we've already started the next OGN that Darren will be drawing called, Graveyard Wars. This will be more kid-centric than Deep Soul but it's a great adventure story with a bit of a supernatural element thrown in."

Darren: "You guys are gonna love it! We can't wait!"

Now that Doppelgänger is up and running, you can submit your own stories to them via their website, where you can also pick up a copy of their first book, Deep Soul.

A version of this article originally appeared in issue 127 of ImagineFX.

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Dom Carter

Dom Carter is a freelance writer who specialises in art and design. Formerly a staff writer for Creative Bloq, his work has also appeared on Creative Boom and in the pages of ImagineFX, Computer Arts, 3D World, and .net. He has been a D&AD New Blood judge, and has a particular interest in picture books.