Comics reach for the masses at WonderCon
Whether WonderCon stays in Anaheim is still up in the air, but no doubt it’s already becoming a favorite event for Southern California. Year Two already appears exponentially more successful than last year, when WonderCon first took up residence in Disney Town.
Three-day badges and badges for Friday and Saturday sold out early, when last year you could easily do a walk-up on any day. The fast acceptance of WonderCon is at least in part due to those burned out on Comic-Con International or frustrated at the five-second sellout looking for a local alternative. It’s not just a good substitute, it’s a great convention. It also had the first big comics announcements of the year to kick off convention season. Looking through coverage here at Comic Book Resources and beyond, there were plenty of things that ranged from boring to intriguing to exciting, but three stood head and shoulders above the rest because of their potential to appeal to larger audiences.
With comics sales on the rise, these publishing moves not only do their part in boosting momentum but in helping the gradual shift of social perception of the comics form. Comics like these always excite me because it’s a reminder of the unique reach comics can have in grabbing people’s attention when the right pieces are in place. More and more these days, there are comics for anyone and when innovative thinking is applied as it is here, they stand a better chance in reaching people that don’t make it a habit of seeking out comics. Of course, comics have long had a problem getting these kinds of things right, so as we’ll see there are challenges, but the potential is exciting.
Thrillbent threw down the gauntlet for the weekend with the announcement of its 2.0 relaunch, with a new trio of weekly comics begins this week. The prison/crime drama The Damnation of Charlie Wormwood, running Fridays, seems ready-made for an option as an HBO or NetFlix series. Arcanum by John Rogers and Todd Allen presents an alien-invasion epic with a twist: The invaders aren’t aliens but rather magical. And then on Wednesdays there’s the return of Mark Waid and Peter Krause’s Insufferable, the father/son tale of a superhero and his obnoxious sidekick. There’s a nice diversity of genres and styles there but I think what elevates Thrillbent’s announcements into the level I’m talking about is how the site has been redesigned. Readers are now able to share the comics they enjoy more easily than before. Among the options is an embed feature similar to the function that helped YouTube become so ubiquitous.
It’s a great move but it’s not perfect: The comic can be shared on Facebook and Twitter, which is extremely smart. However, in trying to share Arcanum on Facebook, the thumbnail options were for a different comic and none of the text on the site showed up to give people any idea what they were clicking on beyond my vague status:
Thrillbent can’t rely on others writing compelling blurbs for them; lots of people share links on Facebook without writing anything at all. To be fair, Mark Waid openly admits they are in an experimental phase, and that’s fair. Their hearts are in the right place, though, as they want to give their comics the potential to go viral. This is tapping into the same smarts that have helped webcomics like The Oatmeal become runaway hits. The little stumbling blocks are little details but they’re the kinds of things that can get in the way of something going viral, so I hope they address them soon.
The second standout announcement also deals with the digital world: Jeff Smith will be doing a weekly color webcomic called Tüki Save the Humans. This is very exciting because Scholastic’s editions of Bone have sold like gangbusters and continue to do well through schools and libraries, so there is a very large audience ready and waiting to come back. This returns the wonderful cartoonist to kid-friendly humor and fantasy, two aspects that contributed to the effortless charm of Bone and made it such a big classic. If Jeff Smith fosters online the community that has loved his work in print, this could really turn some heads. I’m interested to see what kind of site format he uses. The sharing culture of social media, especially for younger readers, should be a guiding force in how the site is designed. I’m also hoping he’ll embrace the more browser and tablet friendly horizontal orientation, but since there are plans for a Scholastic book once it’s complete, the pages will probably be in the less Internet ideal vertical dimensions of a standard comic book. He wants to build up a lead time of six months, so this is probably still a ways off. I’m looking forward to more details and hopefully a peak at some art. It’s great news both for the story to come, about the first human to leave Africa following the Ice Age 2 million years ago, and the potential audience that could follow.
And, finally, the winner for the announcement with the biggest hook: Dark Horse will publish a comic book adaptation of George Lucas’ original draft for the screenplay of The Star Wars. Sure there aren’t any fancy technology bells and whistles (although the comics will surely be released digitally through the Dark Horse Digital Comics Store), the curiosity factor is likely too great for most people with some level of love for the movie franchise. This even tops Brian Wood’s Star Wars comics starring the original movie cast in terms of marketability. A historical document in the genesis of one of the largest pop culture events of the 20th century is being brought to life. I’m not even that big of a Star Wars fan (I know, blasphemy!) and I’m sold. The eight-issue miniseries, by LucasBooks Executive Editor J.W. Rinzler and artist Mike Mayhew, will debut in September. Left unsaid is the possibility that this may be one of Dark Horse’s final new Star Wars titles due to the rumor that the license will go to Marvel after this year. Of course, the timing doesn’t quite work out. An eight-issue monthly comic starting in September won’t conclude before the end of the year unless the comic is to be released biweekly. If the rumor is true, what a final bow.
It’s still a thrill for me when comics reach beyond our inner circle. It can be frustrating when they stumble, but I applaud the effort because everyone benefits when publishers and creators remember comics can also be an accessible mainstream form of entertainment.