Webcomics 2.0

I’d love to see a good instructional manual with all the tips and tricks for not only making a webcomic (which anyone can do with minimal help) but creating a successful one. This book, subtitled “An Insider’s Guide to Writing, Drawing, and Promoting Your Own Webcomics”, gave me hope, but it doesn’t live up to the promise, in part because of its divided focus.

Webcomics 2.0 cover
Webcomics 2.0
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The title comes from blending the subject, webcomics, with current hype term Web 2.0 (used for interactive websites like YouTube). I don’t think it’s the best idea, in part because I’m not sure most webcomics can be accurately described that way, but more because it gives the impression that this book is either a sequel or a revised edition.

Since it’s being blurbed as by “insiders”, let’s look at the author credits for Steve Horton and Sam Romero. I knew of the former because he wrote the manga-styled Image miniseries Strongarm, but he’s also credited as “co-creator of the long-running webcomic Grounded Angel” and for running “a comics publishing company, Smashout Comics, which publishes digital comics through the Wowio e-book service.” Unfortunately, neither of those are ongoing at this time. Grounded Angel is described as “romance action manga” and seems to have concluded, while the Smashout titles I checked are no longer part of Wowio after the recent changes (an understandable choice).

As for Romero, he “is the creator of the popular webcomic Edge the Devilhunter, featured at Graphic Smash.” I plugged “Edge the Devilhunter” into Google, and the actual, updating site shows up as the fourth link. The first is an earlier mirror site that stopped updating in October 2007; the next two are reference sites. So I can understand why he needs to list the host site in the description. When you do visit the strip (NSFW), the first thing I saw (as of this writing) was a topless female with breasts as big as her head. The comic is apparently a manga-styled adventure; after that image, I didn’t stick around to find out the details. The Comixpedia description says

The webcomic itself is noteworthy not only for its extreme violence and sexual content, but its controversial left-wing political content and liberal use of racial epithets.

Back to the book. The presentation is very professional and easy to read, with large subject headings making it easy to find a particular section. There are 13 chapters plus a glossary for a total of 225 pages of content. However, the authors don’t start covering webcomic creation until the eighth chapter, 90 pages into the book. After a short introduction, there are chapters each on humor, adventure, and manga and additional chapters on other examples and “gathering the [creative] team”. I find the genre division odd — manga is more often considered an art style or influence instead of a genre, so I’m not sure why they split it that way, unless it’s a reflection of how both authors are known for work in that style. Read the rest of this entry »

Print or Online, Your Choice: Duel, Rook City, Hereville

The following comics are now available for reading online, with your choice as to whether to buy them in print.

Duel #1

by Seth Wolfshorndl, Three Trees Studios, $2.95 in print or free online

Two kids have a sketch battle, coming up with new characters to defeat each other’s creations. Originally a 24-hour comic, this simple story is well-suited to online display, which makes the creator’s decision to put it on WOWIO a smart one. (Once you register at that site, you can download free PDF comics with ads included.) It’s imaginative and faithful to its characters, and I enjoyed reading it (in large part because of its innocence), but I don’t see any need to own it. Loved the ending, and it really gave me the feeling of hanging out for an afternoon with two eight-year-olds who love their monsters.

Rook City #1

by Seth Wolfshorndl, Three Trees Studios, $2.95 in print or free online

Same author, same release setup, but this one’s a bit more ambitious, the story of a college student who’s the only normal one in a city of weirdos. In various short stories, we see an ancient vigilante in a nursing home; a gang of vampire wannabes called the Vlad Squad; a stolen museum piece; and fake superheroes. If you’re at all interested in any of these concepts, you’ve likely seen better done before. There’s more time spent on setups than perhaps the gags require, and the stories just peter out, as though the author didn’t know how or when to end on something punchy.

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword

by Barry Deutsch, www.hereville.com, $15 in print or $5 for an e-copy or free online (but at a rate of only one page a week, to complete in December)

Hereville banner

There are many webcomic creators who are publishing their works a page at a time, with thoughts of eventual collection, but Deutsch is doing it the other way around: he’s already done the story, all 57 pages of it, and now he’s doling it out online. If you don’t want to wait, you have two options for getting the entire story now, a somewhat expensive print version (but with a print run of only 100, you don’t get any economies of scale) or an electronic version. I think his prices are too high for the generally accepted ranges of such things, but if he can get it, more power to him.

Deutsch describes his series as a quirky fantasy adventure comic for fans of Bone or Courtney Crumrin — I’d add Amy Unbounded to that list as well. I reviewed the CBZ version, and I found the lettering full of personality but hard to read on a small screen. (I use a laptop, which keeps me from reading lots of online comics, especially the page-based ones.) There’s lots of dialogue, unfortunately for me, since that’s where the humor and meaningful characterization comes in.

Mirka, our heroine, is a willful young girl resenting having to learn feminine stuff like knitting. She’d rather be slaying dragons. In the meantime, her argument-loving stepmother (a hoot!) is a burden to her and her younger brother humors her wishes until she gets a chance to actually act on them.

It’s a charming story, with lots of good feeling and attention to tradition, made all the more unusual by its Orthodox Jewish background (in a fantasy world, yet — that’s something very rare), but I sure can’t see reading it only a page at a time. Too much of the energy and flow would be lost. Oh, and Deutsch promises to do more “Hereville” stories after this one concludes at the end of the year; he’ll publish them after he’s completed them.

Love and Capes Catchup

I’ve been remiss in not talking about Love and Capes more often, since it’s my favorite superhero book. Although it’s not really a superhero book, not in traditional style — instead, it’s a romantic comedy that happens to feature a superhero, and its pacing shows a strong comic strip influence, with frequent punchlines. It’s cute and funny and touching and well worth reading.

Love and Capes #7 cover

I recommended issue 1 and issue 2, as well as the fourth issue, which came out for Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) last year. (I skipped the third issue only because of timing, not because of quality.)

Since then, there’s been two more issues, and #7 is due out for FCBD this year. I encourage you to check it out. You have a bunch of options for catching up with this terrific series: new in stores is a six-pack of all the issues so far, at an $8 discount over buying them individually. The first three issues are available online free at Wowio. There are also lots of samples at the book’s website.

Hey, did you know that there are also “liner notes” to each issue at the website? I didn’t. Plus, artist Thom Zahler has been interviewed at Comic Pants, where he reveals a lot of the series inspirations, which only makes me like it (and him!) more.

Wood Pulls Another AIT Title, Puts Online, AIT Rumors Result

Brian Wood was one of AIT/Planet Lar‘s early popular creators, publishing seven graphic novels through them plus a couple of supporting books. It thus caused some discussion in late September 2007 when he announced that he and artist Becky Cloonan were taking back the rights to their Demo collection (especially since AIT only published the collected edition in December 2005, less than two years earlier).

It’s since been announced that Vertigo will publish Demo in May of this year. That made sense, for several reason: Wood’s currently writing both DMZ and Northlanders for them; Demo is at core a superhero title, albeit an indy-twisted one; and DC’s one of the best for getting and keeping graphic novels in bookstores. (An area where rumors have been swirling around AIT, based on some creators reporting out-of-stock difficulties.)

Today, Brian Wood announced that he’s pulling another book from AIT: Public Domain, a book about the design and creation of Wood’s first major project, Channel Zero. However, this one is taking a different route. Wood mentions that it’s out of print, and he has placed it online for free download, accompanied by a donation button and a link to an Amazon store. (The free giveaway is a popular choice lately among forward-looking creators and publishers.)

Rumors about AIT (link no longer available) were a side effect of this action, so I thought I’d take a look at their publishing history over the last three years. Here’s all of their publications that shipped through Diamond, in rough publication order and with short notes. Starred (*) are comic-format; others are graphic novels.

Proof of Concept (collection of pitches written by publisher Larry Young)
Couriers 3 (written by Brian Wood)
Scurvy Dogs: Rags to Riches (art by publisher’s production coordinator)
Filler (creators Rick Spears and Rob G. have since formed their own publisher)
True Story Swear to God 2 (creator Tom Beland moved to Image after public disputes with the publisher)
* Black Diamond: On Ramp (written by publisher)
Smoke & Guns
Electric Girl 3 (I miss this title; don’t know what the creator’s doing now)
Full Moon Fever
Sunset City (creator is self-publishing new work)
Colonia 2 (creator slow; book 3 announced for 2009)
Demo Collection (already discussed)

Also two prose books:
Demo Scriptbook (also reverted)
Surviving Grady

* Sky Ape: King of Girls (fourth and final series volume, not listed on AIT website)
Continuity (released for free in PDF form)
Shatter (reprint of early computer comic)
Rock Bottom
Seven Sons

First Moon (Xeric Award winner; AIT-distributed)
Giant Robot Warriors (Re-release with new slipcover)
Last Sane Cowboy & Other Stories (collects Isotope Award-winning minicomics)
Homeless Channel (debut graphic novel)
* Black Diamond 1-4 (written by publisher)
Monster Attack Network

From 11 to 4 to 3 graphic novels (not counting re-releases and books they only distributed)… it’s easy to see why people wonder how the publisher is doing. Especially since Larry Young made the company by seeming to be everywhere online, and now it’s hard to find him except at the company site. And certainly, having a child (born June 2007) will cause all kinds of changes.

Fundamentally, it’s none of a reader’s business if creators and publishers, once appearing to be fast friends, now find their business decisions going in different directions. But curiosity is a basic human drive, especially in today’s connected world.

Update: Made a couple of additional notes above, and received the following in response to a request for comment from Larry Young.

I don’t have anything new to add to what I wrote to Rich Johnston back in July of 2006. We’ve been publishing now for nine years, and the whole thing has always ebbed and flowed. That’s just the nature of the business.

So fans looking for an explanation from the previously outgoing publisher will have to look elsewhere.

Swashbucklers Free Online to Benefit Mantlo

Swords of the Swashbucklers, a graphic novel plus 12-comic series by Bill Mantlo and Jackson Guice, is now available online for free. Earnings from the commercial sponsors will go to benefit Mantlo’s care.

Press release after the break, with reminiscences from Guice and Colleen Doran about Mantlo. Read the rest of this entry »

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PR: What Not to Do: Nyah, Nyah, You Can’t Have It

Announcements of sell-outs are popular press release subjects. Many of them walk a thin line, trying to convey the message “our publications are so much in demand that they’re being under-ordered” without turning people off. They want retailers to order to more to satisfy this unmet demand without convincing readers to jump off. After all, when you’re dealing with serialized entertainment, crowing that “the latest issue is unavailable” often tells customers to stop buying the series altogether.

That’s why I was so surprised to see this particular announcement, which goes (in my opinion) way too far in the wrong direction, saying “you can’t have it” in, by my count, four different ways (numbered below) in the first two paragraphs. They also didn’t include the now-customary (after retailer backlash) “copies may still be available at the retail level” line.

The first new issue of Heroic Publishing‘s CHAMPIONS comic book series (issue #38), featuring the long-awaited return of Roy & Dann Thomas’s CAPTAIN THUNDER AND BLUE BOLT, has completely sold out [1]. No copies are available for reorder [2], and Heroic has announced that there will not be a second printing [3].

Champions #38 cover

If you can’t find a copy of this first CT&BB story in almost fifteen years, you may have to wait a while [4]. The story, by writers Roy Thomas and Dennis Mallonee, and artist Benito Gallego, is scheduled to be reprinted in the third Captain Thunder and Blue Bolt trade paperback, but that collection will not appear until the “Merchants of Menace” storyline is wrapped up in a future issue of CHAMPIONS, most likely in late 2008.

In the meantime, you will be able to enjoy classic adventures of comics’ greatest father-and-son superhero team, beginning with CHAMPIONS #39, on sale in late August, and with the first CT&BB trade paperback, currently scheduled for a mid-December release date.

Champions… that would be the trademark that Marvel was going to use for its now-titled Order series. So one can see why they’d want to rush it back into print and crow about its perceived success.

But why not address current demand instead of telling people to wait a year to read the story? Especially since the publisher has made the issue available online for free?

Pullbox Online Launches

Devil’s Due Publishing has launched Pullbox Online (no longer available), a store selling online versions of comics (choice of CBR or PDF) for 99 cents an issue. (Clearly, they’re inspired by iTunes.)

They’re not the first to offer legal downloads — already in this market are Slave Labor (choice of CBR or PDF, 69 or 89 cents an issue, but it’s hard to find their web store even if you know what you’re looking for) and Wowio (PDF, ad-supported, free to user if you’re comfortable giving them your credit card information (why?)).

Pullbox Online is clearly not the cheapest. But they might be the best-positioned to survive so far, since they’ve come the closest to offering titles that the traditional comic book audience will be familiar with and want. Selection and ease of use are what’s going to make this particular comic market able to survive and compete against free copyright violations.

Pullbox Online header

They can’t seem to decide who they’re targeting, though. I’m not inclined to applaud someone who opens their About Us statement with this sentence:

PullBoxOnline.com is the premier online site for affordable, high quality downloads of your favorite comic book product.

It’s overblown hype, and I want good reads, not “product”, thank you. The name is also an odd choice, taken from the most obsessive quality of the direct market, the need to know that your pre-ordered comics are waiting for you. (Ironic, since some of those retailers are already mad about this approach to undercutting their sales, offering the same stories at one-third the price.) They go on to say:

We believe that the proliferation of downloadable comics is healthy for the industry, and will allow collectors of physical comics to catch up on hard to find issues they missed, and enabling them to continue to collect the physical series rather than dropping it. It is an enjoyable way to try a comic book series before deciding on trade paperback purchases, and opens the doors to millions of potential comic book readers not familiar with the tightly knit comic book collector community.

I know they’ll take whomever they can get to start, but is this really an avenue for outreach to new readers? Or is it likely that a hardcore collector, once he buys a non-physical issue and interrupts his run, is going to keep buying print comics?

And wouldn’t that necessitate having current issues available? They promise that they won’t release online versions before the print ones, fair enough, but the current selection looks much more than a month old. Aside from some DDP titles, the store also features three IDW titles (but nothing licensed) and comics by Jim Mahfood. They promise new additions weekly (on Wednesdays, keeping with tradition), with Steve Rude’s Nexus mentioned as coming soon.

Most intriguing is this bit, from owner Josh Blaylock’s Newsarama interview (link no longer available):

We are not going to overload the site with tedious DRM features. After a lot of consideration and study, it was decided that it’s more important for Pullbox to be the easiest place to download a comic. We want to embrace the currently existing online community of downloaders, not exclude them. Most of these communities are looking for a cheap legal alternative and we’re providing it.

People are already sending them around via scans from print comics, so if they’re determined to do that they’re going to do it anyway. And to be frank, if Pullbox can sell 10,000 downloads of a title and reach a new audience, we don’t care if 100,000 people are reading that same product. That will just make us try to get the circulation up to 1,000,000 so we can be selling 100,000 downloads.

That’s certainly user-friendly, but if I was an investor or content provider, that cavalier attitude would make me awfully nervous. Is that factor-of-ten valid, or based on anything concrete? Maybe it’s really a factor of 100, so that 100,000 readers means only 1,000 sales? I suspect nobody knows, and nobody can know until this effort, and others like it, have been running a while.

Blaylock goes on to say:

it’s not like anyone’s discontinuing to print the books, so there’s really nothing to lose with the downloads. It’s gravy!

Unless the sheer fact of offering the downloads causes retailers to cut orders. With no shelf space, you’ve got no ability for customers to browse (unless you start offering free online samples). And a number of commenters at that Newsarama thread seem to be ready to switch from print to screen, based just on price, meaning fewer physical copies sold. (Then the naysayers claiming 99 cents is too much for an online copy start appearing, so maybe responses there aren’t a good way to judge anything.)




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