INTERVIEW: DiDio & Lee on "Dark Knight 3," Vertigo's Future & DC's Evolving Readership
If you’re a fan of Tim Gibson‘s Moth City, you may have been introduced to the work on Gibson’s own site or through its serialization at Thrillbent. Fans of the digital platform are able to consume larger installments of the series in one sitting with comiXology Submit, where Moth City will wrap up its second season on Wednesday, with the digital release of Issue 4.
Set in 1930s China and featuring an interesting mix of characters, Moth City is what comiXology aptly describes as “a story about control — when we lose it, when we gain it, and when others hold it over us.”
To celebrate the release of Moth City #4, Gibson opened up about his murder-mystery series, and the creative process behind it. His storytelling and bio gave me a lot of ground to develop questions, particularly with great lines like, “When he’s not writing or drawing, he spends his time reading Elmore Leonard, Stephen King and Agatha Christie, and ogling the art of David Mazzucchelli.”
Tim O’Shea: The first issue opens with a quote from Lord Byron’s “On Leaving Newstead Abbey.” What prompted you to open with that?
Tim Gibson: Byron is this great figure of masculinity, a soldier and a poet. A romantic who had a very twisted love life. He’s a great parallel to the story’s self-imposed tyrant, Governor McCaw, a man who sees himself in a very idealised light. Newstead Abbey also touches on the failure and decay of a once-grand estate, which helps set up one of the main conflicts of the story, that of the Governor, and his daughter Glitter who lives a life so sheltered she may as well be a possession.
Plus, you know, if you’re going to do a comic with car chases, bio weapons, shoot outs, hurried romance and underground plots, you may as well put a bow tie on it.
Welcome to “Report Card,” our week-in-review feature. If “Cheat Sheet” is your guide to the week ahead, “Report Card” is typically a look back at the top news stories of the previous week, as well as a look at the Robot 6 team’s favorite comics that we read.
So find out what we thought about the final issue of It Girl & the Atomics, the latest Edison Rex and more.
Mark Waid’s Thrillbent, which hosts a variety of digital comics that can be read in a variety of different ways, is adding a new way to purchase titles: download-to-own. Starting today, readers can buy downloadable PDFs of Waid’s Insufferable, Art Balthazar and Franco Aureliani’s Aw Yeah Comics!, and other comics. Insufferable will be offered on a pay-what-you-like basis.
All the comics on Thrillbent are available to read for free in a web browser, and the site also offers free downloads, in CBZ format, of many comics, including Insufferable. The titles are also offered, at prices between 99 cents and $1.99 per issue, on comiXology.
So why charge for PDFs if the CBZs are free? Waid recently addressed that in a post on the Thrillbent blog. While the free CBZs are simple files containing the weekly installments, the PDFs will include “bigger chunks of story” as well as links to bonus web content, such as footnote and behind-the-scenes features, that will be created specifically for each comic. So basically, while both CBZs and PDFs are downloadable comics that live on your device, not in the cloud, the PDFs will have added features.
“I think it is not only unaffected by piracy, it benefits from pirating. You cannot stop pirating of comics. It’s like trying to push the tide back with a broom. You can either be angry about it, and resistant, and fight and clamp down harder, or you can find ways to make that tool work for you. With Thrillbent, we offered all our files free to download on a weekly basis, so you can read them free on the site and you can also download them for free, and that way, sure enough, we got to control the quality of the image, we got to make sure it was not out of focus or crappy or corrupted files or whatever, we got to make sure there was a placard at the end that says, hey, if you like this come to Thrillbent for more stuff, and that worked wonders for us. And I know that pumped up our traffic. That is not the answer for every publisher, but I will go to my grave not buying the baloney that every pirated comic was a lost sale.”
– Mark Waid, during the “Digital and Print” panel at Comic-Con International, when asked whether piracy poses a threat to the comics industry
ROBOT 6’s Corey Blake wrote a great piece last month on the evolution of digital comics and the innovations that make them more than just electronic copies of print comics. Without repeating what he said, those innovations raise a couple of questions that are also worth talking about: What are we going to call this new format and does it even need a separate name?
Gabriel Hardman (Star Wars: Legacy, Kinski) recently asked on Twitter, “Is there an accepted name for the Thrillbent/Infinite style of digital comics?” Even filtering out all the joke responses (my favorite is Dennis Culver’s “Labor Intensive”), the answer seems to be no.
A couple of folks note that Scott McCloud’s Infinite Canvas (or, alternatively, Expanded Canvas) is a common term, but Hardman observes that it could be seen as pretentious, which might keep it from catching on. I like the idea of letting McCloud name it — he more or less came up with the idea — but it does remind me of how it sounded when comics fans all started referring to the medium as “sequential art.” It’s a great term for talking about comics academically, but not so good for popular use.
Last week Mark Waid was asked on Twitter about whether or not he received any sort of credit in Warner Bros./DC Entertainment’s big mega-blockbuster film Man of Steel, currently breaking records and setting the box office on fire in a theater near you. Waid of course wrote Superman: Birthright, parts of which inspired the film. He said he didn’t, that the practice of DC crediting creators whose work influenced a film in some way stopped when Paul Levitz, former president and publisher at DC Comics, stepped down from his position.
As he noted on Twitter (and in the comments section of my post about it last week), Waid wasn’t looking to pick a fight, he was simply answering a question; but it did cause a lot of discussion. So he’s taken to his blog on his Thrillbent site to explain the history of work for hire in the comics industry, the addition of royalties in the 1980s and the “extra-media compensation” that came during Levitz’s tenure at DC, where creators received a bonus if an element from a comic they wrote found its way onto the big or small screen. He notes that these bonuses were a courtesy, not a legal obligation, and now DC “pays bonuses only on material that’s a straight and highly faithful adaptation of existing work,” like the recent The Dark Knight Returns animated films. He also notes that he still sees payments based on the fact that he co-created the character Impulse with Mike Wieringo, so he gets something for every Impulse trade paperback or action figure that’s sold.
But he doesn’t get anything for his contributions to the Superman mythos that made it into Man of Steel, and he’s more than ok with that. “Hell, for me, honestly, the smile I got on my face the first time I heard lines from Birthright in the MoS trailer — the confirmation that I really did give something lasting back to the character who’s given me so much — is worth more to me than any dollar amount. (Your mileage may vary.)”
If you’re interested in these sorts of matters, I recommend you read the entire piece over on the Thrillbent site, and if you’re not, then hey, that’s cool too — you can head over there and read some comics instead.
How quickly we’re evolving: From Yvyes Bigerel’s rough demo in February 2009 to the near-simultaneous launch of Mark Waid’s Thrillbent and Marvel’s Infinite Comics in March 2012 to the Marvel ReEvolution suite of digital initiatives announced earlier this year (and still coming). And now we have DC Comics’ entry, DC2 (“DC Squared”), which looks to be the company’s take on Bigerel’s concepts. Also announced is DC2 Multiverse, a choose-your-own-adventure style digital comic that will inform DC on readers’ story choices.
While the latter seems a little creepy, it’s becoming clear that after years of digital and webcomics primarily mimicking print comic books and comic strips, a new kind of comic is emerging, one that is changing how they’re made and read.
These current platforms were far from the first to experiment with digital. Artists like Cayetano Garza Jr. began experimenting with limited effects and layout as early as 1998. Scott McCloud’s infinite canvas theory, in which digital could break free of the confines of the limited dimensions of a page, was proposed in 2000, ironically in the pages of his print book Reinventing Comics. Experiments with using an infinite canvas followed, but it never grabbed hold as a standard format. Mostly, webcomics have echoed the structure and dimensions of daily newspaper strips with the occasional experimentation.
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.
Hard to believe, but this month marks four years since I first interviewed artist Peter Krause about his return to comics. More immediately, today marks the return of Mark Waid and Peter Krause’s Insufferable at Thrillbent 2.0 with a new arc, “On the Road.” Through Thrillbent 2.0, Insuffereable: On The Road is free to view and download or embed — there are plenty of ways to enjoy the somewhat reconciled father-son team of Nocturnus and Galahad (seemingly led by the smarter than both of them, Meg). In addition, there are bundled editions of the first Insufferable arc (with extras) for sale at comiXology.com.
Tim O’Shea: How did Mark Waid convince you to try working in a then-relatively new medium like digital comics on Insufferable?
Peter Krause: The main attraction was that I’d get to keep working with Mark. I really valued the time we’d spent on Irredeemable for BOOM! I stepped away from that book because of time constraints — I was doing non-comics work that was making it harder to bring an “A” game to Irredeemable.
Thirty-six questions. Six answers. One random number generator. Welcome to Robot Roulette, where creators roll the virtual dice and answer our questions about their lives, careers, interests and more.
Trying his luck today is comic writer, guest lecturer and sometimes keynote speaker Mark Waid. He’s the man behind Thrillbent.com and the writer of such comics as Indestructible Hulk, Daredevil, Insufferable, Steed and Mrs. Peel, Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom, Kingdom Come, The Flash, Captain America, Legion of Superheroes, Amazing Spider-Man, Irredeemable, Fantastic Four and many more.
Now let’s get to it …
Comics| Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, expressed dismay about the backlash to DC Comics hiring sci-fi author, and outspoken gay-rights opponent, Orson Scott Card to write Adventures of Superman. Card is a board member of the organization, which works against the legalization of same-sex marriage. “This is completely un-American and it needs to be stopped,” Brown said. “Simply because we stand up for traditional marriage, some people feel like it’s OK to target us for intimidation and punishment.” NOM last year launched boycotts of Starbucks and General Mills because of their support of same-sex marriage initiatives. [The Huffington Post]
Retailing | Gabi Shepherd, owner of Olympic Cards and Comics in Lacey, Washington, talks about the importance of courting teenagers, who are often not welcome in other retail stores: “I have found that if I am going to make this the community center that I want to make it then the kids are a big part of that. It makes them feel good when they come in and someone knows who they are. It’s important. It’s respect.” [ThurstonTalk]
Creators | Gene Luen Yang, creator of American Born Chinese, has revealed his latest project Boxers and Saints, a set of two graphic novels about the Boxer Rebellion in China; one story is about a peasant who joins the Boxers, while the other is about a woman who converts to Catholicism. First Second will publish them as a slipcased set. There’s a 10-page preview as well as an interview at the link. [Wired]
Comics | Jim Rugg notices that his print copy of Hellboy in Hell doesn’t look as good as his friend’s digital copy, and where most of us would have just shrugged and moved on, he takes the time to think about why that is and how careful publishers can ensure that print comics look their best. [Jim Rugg]
Created by Waid and his Irredeemable collaborators Peter Krause and Nolan Woodward, Insufferable debuted in May 2012 on Thrillbent, where it continues to be serialized for free. The series centers on an estranged crime-fighting duo, the dedicated hero Nocturnus and his egotistical former sidekick Galahad, who are forced to reunite for a new case.
A veteran writer for DC Comic and Marvel, Waid is the creator of the alt-superhero series Incorruptible and Irredeemable, former editor-in-chief and chief creative officer of BOOM! Studios, and the winner of three Eisner Awards this year for his work on Daredevil. In other words, he knows his comics. But with Thrillbent, Waid struck out into the unknown, creating a digital-comics site and using it to host his newest comic Insufferable.
The end of the year seemed like a good time to touch base and see what Waid has learned so far and what he plans to do next with Thrillbent.
Robot 6: What has been the hardest part of all this so far?
Mark Waid: Besides working for free on my own end of it, the hardest part by far has been making the jump from print to digital in terms of story construction. When I started out with this idea over a year ago, I still had in the back of my head that we would be doing print comics out of digital comics fairly easily. I wanted to do comics in a 4/3 ratio so we could stack one on another and make a comics page. Trying not to do in digital what I can’t do in print was such a bad mistake. If you’re going to do it, do it right, go all in, is what I learned. That was a hard leap to make, but once I made it, it was very liberating. It made me a lot less cautious, and it narrowed my focus so I no longer had to feel that I was serving both masters, print and digital. Then being able to use different techniques like rack focus, repeating panels, pop-up dialogue, that you can’t do in print becomes a reality, and it made us all the more adventuresome—I don’t mean just me, I mean my collaborators. I made the mandate fairly early on: Don’t worry about print; we’ll figure it out later.
As we finish off Year Five of digital comics (depending on how you count things), the distribution method is positioned to bring in a continually growing sector of new readers.
comiXology, the market leader, is ending 2012 as the third highest-grossing app of the year for the iPad. That’s up from the 10th spot last year, which is even more remarkable when you consider virtually no other app made an appearance on both lists. I can’t imagine that could be accomplished strictly with purchases from direct-market customers crossing over to digital. And when you take into account that direct-market sales have also been improving, that couldn’t happen even if every reader in comics got a big raise this year and was buying both digital and print copies. Worst-case scenario, we’re winning back lapsed readers. But mixed within those two groups (current and lapsed/returning readers) has to be a third, even if only a small percentage at this time. It seems too good to be true but it’s becoming more and more likely that the elusive new reader is being reached.
As digital sales continue to grow (“getting close to 25 to 30% of print sales,” for Robert Kirkman), several elements are in place, or just about in place, that could be creating a perfect storm to increase that new readers section of the pie.