Here’s your latest webcomics and digital comics news. I was hoping to get this out last week but things got away from me. There were also a lot of big stories I felt deserved coverage but unfortunately that meant I had less time to dig up stories on less high profile comics. Remember, if you’re a creator of such comics, send me your news, press releases, announcements, etc. The internet is a big place so I can’t see everything. I’d be happy to cover your comic.
# Digital comics publisher MonkeyBrain Comics announces their Summer of Print, where they will release print versions of their digital-first comics for the first time. MonkeyBrain and their creators will team up with traditional print publishers Image Comics and IDW Publishing. The super-villain series Edison Rex by Chris Roberson and Dennis Culver will be released by IDW in June. The Depression-era superhero anthology Masks & Mobsters by Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson will be released by the Shadowline imprint of Image in July. And then fantasy series Amelia Cole and the Unknown World by Adam P. Knave, D.J. Kirkbride and Nick Brokenshire will come out in August from IDW. “Print collections have been a main goal from the beginning and it’s really exciting to see such a major piece of the plan fall into place,” Allison Baker says, “especially since it means even more people get to discover the amazing work of our creators!” More collections will be announced in the near future. Wired has a story covering the news and more about MonkeyBrain’s business model and goals.
# Mark Waid spoke at the Tools of Change for Publishing conference recently. His presentation “Reinventing Comics and Graphic Novels for Digital” walked people through the challenges of bringing comics to the digital space, and how his digital-first model on Thrillbent is succeeding. One thing I found interesting is that the sales from collections of 4 weeks of content through ComiXology recoups their production costs. And that’s just one revenue stream they only recently started.
# ComiXology released the first ever digital convention exclusive at the just-concluded Emerald City Comicon this past weekend. According to the press release, con goers were given a special code for a free download of the all-new short story Atomic Robo: Along Came a Tyrantula by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener which will be released this Wednesday. The fancy gif above reveals that the story was made exclusively as a digital experience, using similar techniques used by Thrillbent and Marvel’s Infinite Comics.
Spotlight on… Look Straight Ahead by Elaine M. Will. One of the final recipients of the Xeric Award grant, Will has been serializing her beautiful graphic novel online since last summer before the eventual print release. Look Straight Ahead, which was nominated for a 2011 Joe Shuster Award in it’s original form as a self-published comic book, is a story about a teen boy’s struggle with depression and mental illness. Will herself had suffered from a mental breakdown in 2002. This led her to research mental illness and when she found a lack of coverage in comics, she decided to change that. In addition to the rock solid line work and layout skills, there’s some fantastic imagery that wonderfully visualizes some of the abstract and intangible sensations of mental illness. Check out page 4 from Chapter 1:
In other news
# Kelly Yates launched last week MonstHer, a new all-ages adventure series released as a digital comic at Artist Alley Comics. A 0 issue is free (and is an adorable and awesome tribute to the classic children’s book The Monster at the End of This Book: Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover by Jon Stone and Mike Smollin), and issue #1 is only $0.99. The series is about Eva Monst who helps her father run a halfway house for monsters who were once humans. Yates is probably best known for his other creator-owned sci-fi adventure series, Amber Atoms, which started life in print at Image Comics and now also lives at Artist Alley Comics.
Artist Alley Comics is unique from other digital comics distributors in that they let you download a PDF file that you can keep, instead of leasing you a digital file stored by them. They’re still formatted like print comics, so they read best on tablets like iPads, even though they don’t have an app yet (and their website’s navigation isn’t the best despite a nice and clean look). But the low price ($0.99 instead of $2.99-$3.99) and a true purchase are where digital comics should be. They also put the focus on the creators, which always wins points with us (one of their taglines is “creator-driven digital comics”). They have digital comics by Craig Rousseau, Todd Dezago, Jason Copland, and other quality creators.
# Warren Ellis and Jason Howard launched a unique web-comic last week. Borrowing from daily newspaper comic strips, Scatterlands is being released Mondays through Fridays but only one panel at a time. The comic is fully improvised, so while it sounds like some rough mapping out might’ve been done (it’s probably going to be a sci-fi tale), there’s no telling where it will go. Every four or five weeks, they’ll take a brief break and release a digest collection but haven’t quite worked out the details on that yet. Watch WarrenEllis.com for future installments.
# Friday saw the release of the first episode of Strip Search, the reality game show by the Penny Arcade gang looking for America’s next top webcomic maker. The full episode is above. We meet the contestants as they arrive at the house where they’ll be competing against each other. I’m still kind of torn about this whole thing. I’m not a fan of reality shows like this and was hoping for a bit more Penny Arcade-style humor. They also apparently had some technical problems. Their host’s mic must’ve died because his audio was clearly re-recorded at a later date and awkwardly dubbed in. But it’s cool to see comics get this kind of mass appeal attention. I know that Hollywood has been trying to get a show like this made for years and I’m glad it came from comics people. I’m also already rooting for a few contestants, so they must be doing something right. Future episodes will go up every Tuesday and Friday.
# Chris Onstad wants to bring his award-winning webcomic Achewood to animation. A teaser trailer is above and once again Wired covers the story. Unlike the Cyanide & Happiness crew, Onstad is not yet burnt out from trying to deal with Hollywood and keep his creative freedom. In fact, according to this blog post, he’s just started trying to work out a deal with a studio or network, although he has a promising partner in producer Josh Lieb, formerly of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Simpsons. While it’s a shame he seems to be done making comics, best of luck to him.
# iVerse Media, which runs the Comics+ app and web store for digital comics, last Wednesday announced a partnership with Archaia Entertaiment, publishers of comics and graphic novels such as Mouse Guard, Return of the Dapper Men and Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand. Archaia has been releasing a number of their comics digitally first in their partnership with ComiXology and I would imagine (and hope) they’ll do the same through Comics+. Perhaps most notable is that the partnership will benefit iVerse’s ComicsPlus: Library Edition, which provides digital comics to libraries.
# Webcomic Creators Google+ community is a great way for creators to talk shop with others.
No purchase necessary! You can read this entire 24-page comic online now.
Last month, the French artist Boulet attended the massive Angoulême International Comics Festival (site in English). Like the Sundance Film Festival, Angoulême is a huge annual event that almost completely takes over a small town for several days to celebrate an art form.
Every year, Boulet joins with other comic creators at Angoulême where they hole up in the Maison des Auteurs for one night to create 24 Hour Comics. That means they each have 24 hours to create their own 24-page comic book, creating roughly 1 page per hour. Each year, the group has a different requirement that their comics have to meet, in addition to the time constraints. This year, they had to incorporate a 3-word caption at certain points of the story. Within the first third of the story, there had to be a caption with the words “He suddenly appeared”. The second third would have the phrase “And at the end” and the final third “She suddenly stopped”. Other than that, Boulet and the other creators could create whatever they wanted.
Boulet’s Darkness is a funny and clever exploration of life with a roommate that is the epitome of cool, mysterious and romantic. It’s extremely imaginative and charming with fantastic imagery. The story was mostly improvised but you’d hardly know it because the story is focused and tight with a great epilogue that really caps off the characters’ journey with a sweet twist. Since it was originally written in French, there are a few awkward translations, but not enough to get in the way of the story.
This is hardly Boulet’s first time at the rodeo. Boulet is the pen name of Gilles Roussel who has maintained a comics blog of his work since 2004, making him one of the earliest French artists to embrace the internet. His online work led to published work, where he has had over 20 books released in French. He is now the regular artist for Dungeon: Zenith starting with Volume 3: Back In Style, just part of the sprawling fantasy satire Dungeon by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim, imported by NBM Publishing. Hopefully this exposure will encourage English-language publishers to import more of his work.
Why read comics?
There’s the Internet, there are video games, apps, TV shows, movies, music, books, theater, radio plays, museums, art galleries… There are bills to pay, jobs to get to and/or find, homework and chores to do, people to be with (or avoid)…
Finding a reason to do something else is real easy.
But once you stumble upon that first comic book or graphic novel or manga or web-comic that connects with you in a way like nothing else, it’s even easier to realize that comics can’t be ignored. They can be an exceptionally engrossing form of entertainment and a transcendent form of artistic expression.
The short version is – THEY’RE AWESOME!
Sure, it’s a great way to spend some spare time. It’s a fun way to be entertained. Some light escapism is great. And if you’re looking for more, there’s plenty of that too. They have unbridled freedom for creativity and expression. They can be crazy, bizarre, unpredictable, adventurous, sublime, hilarious, romantic, informative, brazen, crass, gentle, healing, and so much more.
The longer version gets a little deep, so hold on.
We may think of comics as old newspaper strips, superheroes and funny animals, but the art form and language have pervaded our entire culture.
Some in literary circles see the graphic novel as the young upstart to the established prose novel. But comics actually predate print and the written word. Pre-historic cave drawings used symbols, imagery and sequential storytelling like a primitive comic strip mural. The written language could even be said to be the evolution of these kind of devices. Just as our brains have been trained to understand that a big, lazy orange cat that eats lasagna and hates Mondays is Garfield, so too do we understand that a circle with the right side missing is the letter ‘C’ and that it makes certain sounds in our language. Taken further, we also understand that a red octagon means we should STOP. We understand that words over someone’s head means they are speaking those words. All of this representative symbology could be said to be related to the development of comics. They are a deeply engrained aspect of our basic visual communication.
Because of these fundamental building blocks, comics are arguably the most powerful, pervasive and instant form of communication. And whether you agree or not (it’s not really a contest, after all), comics have proved themselves to be just as capable forms of entertainment worthy of some time as any other. I hope you’ll give them a chance.
Keep checking back here at The Comics Observers for more Intro to Comics articles, where we’ll explore basic aspects of the big world of comics so it doesn’t seem so daunting and overwhelming to check something out. (And me we might touch more on theory from time to time.) If you’d like to see if you can find something you might like, check out What to Read. If you have a question or want to see something explained, post a comment below, or write through Facebook, Twitter or email.
And here we are!
If you got here from my comics coverage at CoreyBlake.com or from DigComics.com, thank you for your continued interest. You’ll find that all of my comics-related articles from CoreyBlake.com have magically teleported over here, along with some even older articles from here and there.
If this is your first time, thank you for taking the time to stop by! You’ll see some new articles from the last month and tons more to come!
So what can you expect? The world doesn’t need yet another comics news site, so while I will be providing my own commentary and unique coverage of current events in comics, the site will look to provide a gateway to people just getting into this massive form of entertainment and also give occasional recommended reads. As visitors get more comfortable, they can dig deeper by looking at spotlights on unique experiments in comics and fun facts of the past. And as a special bonus for local readers here in Los Angeles, I’ll feature events like signings and conventions in and around the LA comics scene. To learn more, see the About page.
It’s very likely you’re here for only a few of these things and that’s OK! Just use the handy navigation menu at the top to see the articles you’re interested in.
We’ll have guest-bloggers, like this Friday’s coverage of an LA play that merges theater and graphic novels. We’ll take a look at a publisher’s digital exclusive comic and see if it succeeds as a promotional tool. What else? If there’s anything you’d like to see, let me know. If you have questions about comics you’ve always wanted to ask but were embarrassed, ask away (anonymity provided upon request). Post in the comments below every article, join The Comics Observer Facebook page, follow @ComicsObserver on Twitter, email email@example.com.
To start, the site will update Wednesdays (new comics day!) and Fridays to keep the focus on quality over quantity.
Thanks again for stopping by. We’ll see you on Friday!
Not everyone could be at Comic-Con this past weekend. But through the magic of the intertubes, a group of web-comics creators were able to quickly set up a virtual convention for all the people not at Comic-Con. Conceived and spearheaded by Ryan Fisher of Gin and Comics, The Non Con served as a place for fans and creators to interact through live chats that simultaneously resemble Comic-Con’s panels and artists alley but with none of the traveling costs and long lines. Response was very positive, so Fisher plans to hold more non-conventions at TheNonCon.com, probably starting as soon as the first weekend of September.
The site is officially in public beta, as the site was built within 2 days before Comic-Con when Fisher got the idea. There is a slideshow currently showing off some of the artwork created by artists that attended the inaugural event. Creators and retailers can also register to participate in future Non Cons.
The live chat is particularly ingenious due to the inclusion of live video feeds integrated into the chat room. When I spent some time in there, I was able to watch two artists creating artwork for their own web-comics. It was really cool to watch. We could ask them questions and interact in a way that would be difficult on a loud convention floor. Visitors can chat either through the old fashioned keyboard or by using a microphone and/or webcam, which creates a really interesting dynamic of some people talking to silent/typed questions or comments. If you don’t want to sign up with the WordPress system they’re using (and the registration process isn’t quite the smoothest), there’s also integration with Facebook chat.
Ryan Fisher has big plans for The Non Con. There will be a few each year, with over 150-200 creators attending each one. There will be an art feed to see what is being created, as well as a schedule of panels done via chat and podcasts. There will also be a store for attending creators and retailers to sell directly to fans.
Comic-Con is a fun adventure but not anyone can travel across the country (or the world) to attend. This brings the experience of comic book conventions straight to fans, with an unprecedented level of interaction and creativity happening all at once. Sure, similar things are happening on Twitter all the time, but they’re unstructured, spontaneous, and requires people search out and follow the people they like. This preserves the crucial element of discovery that can happen at comic book conventions, where you seek out artists you know and love, and also end up finding new artists.
As big as Comic-Con has become, this has even bigger potential, as the attendance limitations are only confined to how much the site’s servers can handle. We’ll check in again come September to see how the first full blown Non Con goes.
A new webcomic debuted last week with a unique twist on incorporating the environment within which webcomics exist: the internet, specifically social media in the form of Twitter.
A Life in the Clouds by writer/letterer Mike Vennard, artist Shawn Decker and colorist Omaik debuted on May 31 and is updating nearly daily. Looking reminiscent of autobiographical comics from the 1970s and ’80s like Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, the strip chronicles one man’s struggles with unemployment.
But perhaps more significantly, it also utilizes a very modern device, both in and outside of the story. Each page’s narrative caption is not just a snippet of the main character’s inner thoughts, they double as what he is posting to Twitter. And post them, he does. You can follow @DavidMawyer, where each of his captions are tweeted to the world, along with links to each page as they go live. This obviously doubles as a smart marketing tool, but the character and comic are truly products of the social media age, using hashtags, memes and tech geek references as part of the character’s language to add a touch of dry humor to what looks to be an otherwise sad and lonely journey to which all too many people can probably relate.
It doesn’t always work flawlessly (the friend request reference on page 3 doesn’t quite work since it’s not like there’s a sexual partner request for people to use as an alternative) but it’s an interesting way to incorporate elements of the modern world and a compelling experiment. This kind of integration and live participation is a definite strength of webcomics that should be explored more. I assume this isn’t the first. Are there other webcomics out there similar to this? Post them in the comments below so we can check them out.
I have long wanted to start a web-comics hub where creators could talk about the issues of the wild and wacky world of comics using the language of comics. I’ve always thought that was the most obvious and natural method to tackle the oddities and challenges of the industry, whether it be behind-the-scenes politics, reactions to comics of the day, op/ed pieces on the business, interviews, whatever. All of it in the compelling and powerful language of sequential arts, the very language at which these creators excel. Why have boring text articles when talking about comics? Heck, I’ve even got the domain name ready to go. I just need… oh you know, money, time, resources, creators/contributors. Silly little things like that.
In the meantime, there are other comics online that are doing similar work on their own. I love that they exist, so in case you don’t know about them or forgot the link, here are the ones I know about. You should check them out! If I’ve missed any, I’d love to hear about it. Add it in the comments section or email me and I’ll add it in.
The Rack by Kevin Church and Benjamin Birdie
While other web-comics had commented on comics, like PvP by Scott Kurtz, Penny Arcade by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, and Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner (and plenty of one-off online comics too), to my knowledge, The Rack was the first web-comic series strictly about comics.
The comic launched February 2, 2007, as part of Kevin’s Agreeable Comics network of web-comics. (He’s got to be one of the most prolific web-comics creators.) The strip tells the story of the eclectic staff of a comic book store. The focus is more on the characters in the store with occasional reactions to what’s going on in comics, but it definitely has a retailer perspective.
Comic Critics! by Sean Whitmore and Brandon Hanvey
Debuting June 18, 2008, the strip follows fanboy Josh Sands and indie snob Marissa Goldman and their circle of friends as they obsess about, deride, and generally laugh at and with the shenanigans of the world of comic book publishing. A lot of the focus is on superhero comics of Marvel and DC but it also looks at other aspects of the industry. Unlike most web-comics, the strip is formatted for vertical scrolling and doesn’t limit itself to the newspaper tradition of 3-4 panels, which allows them to pack their strips with multiple comedic beats and really build to punchlines. Some of the strips might be a bit too steeped in the inside headlines and scuttlebutt, and they don’t provide links or any commentary on what they’re riffing on, but there’s still plenty of good material to chew on for those with a more general pop culture awareness.
Comic Critics is probably my favorite, partly because I found out about it before The Rack (thanks to Brian Cronin’s Comics Should Be Good blog, which also runs the strip) but also because it does what it does really well.
Let’s Be Friends Again by Curt Franklin and Chris Haley
Following only a few months later, LBFA is about two friends (essentially, themselves) who really like comics. Some of the strips aren’t directly talking about comics but they are definitely immersed in the geek culture associated with most comics. The strip will also step into realities parodying current events, like Captain America falling for email forwards and Hawkman getting incensed on Bill O’Reilly over Superman renouncing his US citizenship. The strip mostly follows the more traditional 3-panel format with what is now the standard website layout for web-comics with an easy navigator to previous strips and a brief comment from the creators and a comments section.
Franklin and Haley also contribute Comics, Everybody!, an intermittent web-series of “funny because they’re true” recaps of the ridiculously convoluted histories of most superheroes for Comics Alliance, as well as other extra material. Talented guys, clearly.
Gin and Comics by Ryan Fisher
Starting in early 2010, Fisher’s Gin and Comics follows three roommates (two guys, and a girl added recently) attempting to be adults while surrounded by comic books and pop culture. The comic itself is a bit rough around the edges, but the experience is enhanced by the site’s coverage of the material it is satirizing, essentially doubling as a comics news site and web-comic. Moreso than the other two, this strip focuses more on the relationships of the characters and their reactions to comics news.
Like LBFA, the strip uses a familiar navigator and 4-panel layout. Fisher accompanies each strip with commentary to give some context on any references made.
Our Valued Customers by MRTIM
Not exactly a web-comic, but definitely funny and definitely a great source of humor and spot-on observations. Begun March 1, 2010, this is a series of single-panel sketches of actual customers that frequent a comic book store that for obvious reasons has been left unrevealed. Heck, maybe it’s your store! Even if it isn’t, you’ve probably met some of these people.
Our Valued Customers is a parade of unique characters that a comics retailer probably sees on a daily basis. The people represented here are definitely not shining examples of the world of comics. Instead, the cartoons serve as a reminder that there’s still a lot of room for improvement in how a vocal section of fans conduct themselves and represent comics.
The Gutters by Ryan Sohmer, Lar deSouza, et al.
The newest addition, debuting June 12, 2010, is a unique strip with a different approach to making web-comics. To my knowledge, this is the only strip that uses a different artist for each day’s page or strip. They have a rotating stable from which they pull and they also bring in other artists to contribute one-off entries, all coordinated by art director deSouza. They’re always on the look-out for new artists, whether it be in person at comic book conventions or through their submissions page on their website. Because there isn’t a consistent writer/artist team building a chemistry in their work, the strip can be hit-and-miss, but the unconventional format keeps the strip fresh and vibrant.
Each page is self-contained and parodies an aspect of the industry, usually focusing on Marvel, DC and other high profile publishers and events of the faithful weekly readers. Each page also includes commentary from Sohmer and links for more information on the topic(s) of the day (although the layout of the site makes it easy to completely miss the links). There’s also a pretty active comments section.