Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Decade Comics Went Digital - Part 2

...picking up from Wednesday's look back the the decade. As you might guess, the last five years made the first five seem quite tame...

Z-Cult2004 - Z-Cult fm Comics Torrent site begins.

Z-Cult was a members only messageboard forum and torrent tracker started by a young man simply known as Serj. Members could post their torrents of shared digital comics. Just as Rich Johnston predicted, this was when downloading comics reached epidemic proportions.

At it's peak Z-Cult had over 70,000 members and new weekly comics were downloaded by the 40,000 people. The all time champ was Sin City with almost 100K downloads. Weekly DCP (Digital Comics Presevation) torrents of the new Wednesday comics reach the 40K range of downloads.

Eventually, in 2007, the site was asked to stop all torrenting of Marvel and DC comics. The site tried to make a go of it as a legitimate source of comics from other companies, as Serj explained, the site was not able to sustain itself.

Well, a decision was just made to call it a day. We had no legal threats since all those ones you covered but the site was dead in the water due to no Marvel or DC comics etc. After Marvel and DC tried to sue us, we decided to remove those [links to] comics, then every other publisher started sending us e-mails so we removed those too. In end we were left with a tracker but not many torrents on it. ~torrentfreak

Here is one members memories of Z-Cult:

Right up until Z-Cult received the simultaneous letters from DC and MARVEL a member could find absolutely anything there. Whether it be just released and still on the comic book shelf for you to go and buy if you so chose, a few months old, a few years old, still in print, now out of print, even items from the silver and golden age of comics. You could find all of them in it's place on Z-Cult. In some cases you may have needed to ask an admin to re-host it, a request not for the newly minted or weak of heart mind you, but if you wanted it then someone there had it or knew the person who had it.

I didn't discover Z-Cult until just a few months before it's demise and even then I got the feeling that the long term members knew it would all come crashing down as if the genie had been let out of the bottle. In a way it had. You see, Z-Cult was a bit like Fight Club in that, it's first rule was to not spread the word or talk about Z-Cult out in the open, in places like public forums or large chat sites like Twitter or Facebook.

It quickly became evident that everyone feared the worst. Newly uploaded comics lacked descriptions of any kind, in their place instead would simply be simple phrases such as: "Download it while you can." or "Don't wait, it won't be here forever." and nearly every post had at least one comment about not telling non forum members about Z-Cult or the comic.

Then one day a board wide post, readable on every topic, told the story of the letters and how they had stopped all activities while those in charge "figured out what to do". There was plenty of chatter about what might be done to sideline DC and MARVEL and keep Z-Cult open and functioning. There was talk of moving the entire community to another site, talk of this, talk of that, but Z-Cult would stay down for quite a while (I don't remember exactly how long somewhere between 3 - 6 weeks) before there was new chatter about all the comics that they could host legally.

There were comics they could host legally, older properties that were now in public domain, and even limited titles from other publishers such as number one issues, previews, and specials that a publisher would give permission to Z-Cult to host but as the genie had truly been let out of the bottle the magic was now gone.

By Butterfly Betrayed2005 - Flashback Universe started

Yeah, I know what you are thinking - "Hey man, you can't put your own site in this article. That's like totally gauche!..." To which I would say, let's review a few facts...

Fact 1: We were the first people to specifically design comics for cbr format.

Fact 2: Over 123,000 comics have been downloaded from our site

Fact 3: We originated the term Paper Comic DeathWatch

Fact 4: Our comics are now distributed via iPod and Archos Tablet

So, yeah, I think it's safe to mention the creation of my site when talking about events that impacted digital comics. :)

Part 4 - Three Sites Begin Selling Downloadable Comics

Wowio2006 - Wowio launches

"WOWIO is today the only source where readers can legally access high-quality copyrighted ebooks from leading publishers for free. Readers have access to a wide range of offerings, including works of classic literature, college textbooks, comic books, and popular fiction and non-fiction titles." ~Wowio

Where are they now?

Caine asked them that very question on this site in August...

2006 - PullBoxOnline launches

Remember PullBoxOnline?

No, you don't.

And you know how I know you don't? Because not a single solitary soul has mentioned PullBoxOnline in any of the articles talking about LongBox. (Even though they are very similar) Observe...

No PullBox

So, let me refresh your memory - PullBoxOnline was established by Devil's Due Publishing to be their answer to be the comic book version of iTunes. (A phrase that keeps coming up in all the LongBox articles.)

From a PullBoxOnline Press Release

PULLBOX ONLINE features exciting titles such as Zombie: Feaste and CVO from IDW Publishing, Hack/Slash, Voltron, and Family Guy from Devil’s Due Publishing, Jim Mahfood’s GRRL Scouts and Stupid Comics, and coming soon, Nexus by Steve Rudeand, plus much, much more! New publishers and creators are popping up weekly! ~BrokenFrontier

Is PullBoxOnline still a live site?
I don't think so.

My attempts to download comics from them a few years ago was a complete disaster. (they charged my visa card, never sent any comics and then never responded to email inquiries about my order.)

You'll notice I don't have a link to the's why...

May Harm Your Computer!

eyemelt2007 - Eyemelt launches is your best bet for downloadable comics! We offer comics and graphic novels in a variety of genres, from established SLG creators as well as new artists you’ll want to check out. Prices start at only 69¢! ~Newsarama

Started by Dan Vado of Slave Labor Graphics, EyeMelt was a great step in the right direction for digital comics. The site was easy to use, and you could pick the format you wanted to read your comics in (pdf or cbr).

However, Dan later decided that having a separate site for digital comics ran a little cross purpose with his business, so he rolled EyeMelt up into the main SLG site where you can still buy digital versions of many SLG comics. :)

Part 5 - Digital Comics Hit the Big Time

2007 - Marvel Launches Digital Comics Unlimited

Read the Siege Preview for Free at Marvel DCUI covered Marvel's DCU pretty well here back in 2007. What I'll say today is I am VERY impressed with how well Marvel seems to be doing keeping this site going and putting new and/or original content on the site. (like this cool free Preview of the Siege Prologue )

I would love it if it weren't in Flash. I've grown accustomed to how the site works, but I still think the Flash thing is going to be a showstopper if and when the iTablet (or is it the iSlate now?) finally gets sold by Apple. I say that because you still can't view Flash on an iPhone or iPod Touch. Still, maybe Apple (or is it Adobe?) will have worked out whatever the problem with Flash is by then.

2008 - 2009 - Comics in your Pocket

And speaking of iPhones and iPods, I think it's safe to wrap up this decade long look back with a few links to some of the Comics on iPhone/Android phone articles that came out in the last 2 years...

Early 2008 - ComicZeal launches - ComicZeal gives people a way to read cbr files on their iPods or iPhones.

October 2008 - PanelFly launches - PanelFly begins selling single issue comics via the iPhone.

November 2008 - iVerse Comics launches - Like PanelFly, iVerse begins selling single issues of comics via the iPhone. Most notable are the huge success they had with Atomic Robo and the Star Trek Movie Prequels.

December 2008 - Comixology's iPhone App launched - sort of app version of a social networking and news site for comic fans.

March 2009 - Robot Comics launches - A Comic reader for Android (Google) Phone platform.

July 2009 - Comixology's Comic Reader launched giving users a comic store on the iPhone. iVerse and PanelFly follow this format as well now.

October 2009 - Marvel Comics comes to the iPhone/iPod Touch - on all PanelFly, iVerse and ComiXology. Currently the selection is a bit limited, but the reading experience has been pleasantly enjoyable!

December 2009 - Saturn Knight, Knight Before Christmas distibruted via Robot Comics for Archos 5 MID and Android phones.

What will the future bring?

Here are my predictions for the next decade:
  • Apple will announce an iTablet in January, with a target release date of March. Prices will run from $700 to $1000 dollars making the device a little out of the range of most comic buyers. So, it won't be quite the paper comic killer I've expected it to be.
  • Inspired by Apple, Google will release an Android Tablet device for $500. Other companies will jump on board as well.
  • DC will finally get off their ass and release comics in some digital format. Either via the web or a distribution deal with Apple (or some other tablet maker.)
  • eReaders will disappear as people flock to more utilitarian devices, like the iTablet.
  • One of the big four (Dark Horse, DC, Image or Marvel) will completely stop printing monthly paper comics opting for Digital and/or Trade Collections only.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Decade Comics Went Digital - Part I

So, as we wrap up 2009, I thought it would be interesting to look at a chronology of some of the digital comic events from the last decade.

First some background info: many people think comic book scanning was something that started in the 2000s. That's wrong. Comic enthusiasts have been scanning their comics for as least as long as usenet has been around.

The earliest online references I can find go back to 1993, but I've seen comic archives that were older than that. For the most part, these early scans were simply people wanting to preserve their collections in a digital format. Reading separate jpgs in the various image viewers available pre 2000 was not a rewarding experience. That would all change in May of 2000.

Part 1 - The beginning of the end

CDisplayMay 2000 - CDisplay is added to CNET

Okay, let's face it - reading comics with Windows Photo Gallery or InfranView sucked. Before CDisplay, there were a few attempts by other developers to create comic reading programs, but most of them were awkward and slow. What David Ayton's CDisplay did was it was simple to use and comics looked great in it. Within a year of its listing on CNET, CDisplay would become the program of choice for reading comic book archive files, saving us from a world of PDF comic book archives.

Inspired by CDisplay, many other developers have created more advanced programs for reading digital comics. At one time there were over 20 different types of CBR readers available on wikipedia page for comic book archives. Good thing too, as David Ayton no longer supports CDisplay, and his geocities site with a link for the program has been taken down.

March 2001 - FastTrack Protocol established. Peer 2 Peer downloading begins for files other than MP3s.

DC++Remember Grokster? iMesh? KaZaa? Well all those programs were riding the wave of the FastTrack protocol. The FastTrack protocol allowed for a more distributed network without a centralized sever. (The centralized server was Napster's downfall.) Two years later, FastTrack was the most popular file sharing network, being mainly used for the exchange of music mp3 files. Popular features of FastTrack are the ability to resume interrupted downloads and to simultaneously download segments of one file from multiple peers.

During the same time, true distributed network protocols such as the open source Gnutella, eDonkey 2000 and DC++ also caught on with mainstream P2P file sharers. Likewise spawning other P2P clients, Limewire, Morpheus, and eDonkey. Compared to Napster, these newer networks were able to attain higher maximum speeds because every client also had the capability to share files. Also, since the copyrighted material were stored on individual computers, with the proper disclaimers, the P2P client companies were able to brush off the majority of legal accusations. ~Wikipedia

2001 Bram Cohen develops BitTorrent

BitTorrentWhen did you first hear about BitTorrent? I'm betting it was well after 2001. And for good reason - early versions of BitTorrent clients were awkward and not exactly ready for your average user. Also, BitTorrent needed more people with HighSpeed internet access to really shine.

However, as the decade progressed, the advantages BitTorrent had over regular P2P programs became apparent. Plus - no spyware! Within 5 years BitTorrent would become the most popular way to download not only single issues, but entire complete runs of comics.

Part 2 - Failed First Steps

But all this talk of a digital comics underground was just a whisper compared the siren call of the new media marketing gurus - all of them heralding the internet as the new way to sell, well, anything (Hey, remember when they thought you would buy pet food online? )

Well, at the time, comic companies were still reeling from the 90's speculator crash, so it's no surprise that they would embrace the internet as their would be savior. Unfortunately the first attempts at such ventures were just not compelling enough to survive.

gotham girls2001 Warner Bros launches Gotham Girls

Gotham Girls is a Flash animation series about the females of Gotham City, created and produced jointly by Warner Brothers and Noodle Soup Productions. Episodes starred Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Batgirl, Catwoman and Zatanna in short stories of varying length about the daily lives of the characters (from the DC Comics universe). ~ Wikipedia

Okay, while very cool, the Gotham Girls animations are not comic books by any stretch of the term, but aside from this and a few very random PDF versions of some titles, DC's Digital output during this time period is pretty much nonexistent.

2001 Marvel's Dot Comics Flash based comics

A for effort - D for presentation.

Marvel's Dot Comics was an awkward Flash based application which presented a limited selection of modern Marvel comics in an attempt to drive more readers to current ongoing titles. The combination of limited titles, awkward UI and hard to read text garnered much hate among the messageboards at the time. Yet, despite the haters, the application proved successful in distributing comics to people who weren't going into comic shops during the time of he Spider-Man movie...

At its peak, which was shortly after the film came out, about 100,000 comics were downloaded per day, said John D. Roberts, a senior developer for Marvel's dot-comics. The rate has slowed to about 80,000 per day. Marvel's print circulation, for all its comic books, is usually about 5 million per month*, said Bill Rosemann, Marvel's marketing communications manager. ~Chicago Tribune

I suspect that after the initial flood of Spider-Man movie fans, the site visitors trickled down to nothing. Still, the surge during the movie was most likely one of the driving forces in developing the better Marvel Comics Unlimited website. But more on that in a moment.

*Question: When was the last time Marvel's circulation was really 5 million a month? Doesn't that number sound a little inflated?

CrossgenMarch 2002 - CrossGen Comics on the Web

Ah, Crossgen! While we didn't like your comics (okay, some of them were good) we admired your spunk! Ever wonder what type of company you would get if you let an internet millionaire and a Gym teacher run it? Well, wonder no more! Entrepreneur Mark Alessi wanted to make comic books more accessible to the masses by shunning superheroes and aiming at a wider demographic than the Marvel or DC. This was a good thing.

However, where he sort of went wrong was his first wave of titles were too slow and boring to compete in the comic shops. By the time Crossgen was able to figure out exactly how to create more exciting comics, it was a little too late. Arguably, Crossgen's greatest success was their Comics on the Web initiative.

Comics on the Web was a Flash based UI which ran in any web browser and allowed users to subscribe to Crossgen comics and read them online. Developed by famous Flash developer Gabo Mendoza, the CoW system had many advantages over Marvel's Dot Comics, including the ability to hover over small text balloons, which would autmatically enlarge them.

Later versions of the CoW system would bring improved reading enhancements. The online library was estimated at 160 issues and 4,400 pages by the end of 2002. ~wikipedia

Part 3 - Digital Comics move into the mainstream

Around 2003 two things caused Digital Comics to move from a arcane enthusiasts pastime to a watercooler topic at the local comic shop.

The first was the rise of high speed internet connections in homes...

High speed internet access became an extremely rapidly developing market in many regions in 2000. Studies found that broadband internet usage in the United States grew more than 24% between 2000 and 2003. ~ezinearticles

The other was Rich Johnston's famous Lying in the Gutters post of May 14th, 2003. (And when I say famous, I mean I still remember it.) Never before had the topic of comic downloading been discussed in such a widely read venue. In a section called YOU KNOW, WE WERE ALWAYS TOLD TO SHARE WHEN WE WERE KIDS… Rich painted quite an alluring picture of the comic scanning underground...

The internet file-sharing revolution has progressed to such a level that it is possible not only to download 90% of the back-catalogue of DC and Marvel, but also to download more or less DC and Marvel's entire monthly output within days of the in-store dates.

And any Web sites that actually mention it only reveal a tiny part of the actual thing. There's a filesharing app called DC++, which is basically a server/client app where people set up very focused servers that specialise in a particular kind of shared files. There are a handful for comics.

It doesn't grow very quickly because there's no advertising and very little word-of-mouth, but when it hits something a bit more widespread like BitTorrent, suffice to say, DC and Marvel will really have to take note.

In addition to increasing awareness of the practice, a very prescient Johnston correctly predicted that BitTorrent would escalate downloading dramatically - most notably in the form of Z-Cult (which we will discuss later). Within a few days after Rich's article, downloading comics became a hot topic on comic messageboards as posters debated its moral and financial implications. Even comic professionals like Warren Ellis confessed to downloading comics.

40 years of spider-man on cd2004 - Marvel and Topics Entertainment release 40 years of Spider-Man on CD

Reading Digital Comics took a bit step towards legitimacy with the release of 501 Spider-Man comics on CD. At the SRP of $49.99 it basically worked out to ten cents an issue. Pretty cool aye?

Pros: This was the first legitimate release of a complete run of comics by a major publisher in a digital format.

Cons: It was spread out over 11 cds and in PDF format.

Currently, this set can still be purchased at Eagle One Media (along with a few other Marvel collections) which is strange because in 2007 a big deal was made in the fact that Graphic Image Technology Inc. (GIT) lost the license to sell Marvel Comics collections on DVD.

This article is running crazy long, so I'm going to break it up here.
Come back Friday for part 2, and I'll finish up the decade and also present my predictions for the next decade. :)

- Jim

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mister Crimson Episode 51

Mister Crimson Episode 51
Wherein Mr. C takes a fall

Monday, December 28, 2009

Frankenstein vs The Prize Universe Heroes

A couple of weeks ago, I featured an issue of issue of Master Comics wherein Captain Marvel teamed up with Bulletman. In thinking about that comic, I wondered what OTHER public domain heroes have teamed up. So I did a little digging around and found Prize Comics 24 which features the Prize heroes (Yank and Doodle, Green Lama, Doctor Frost and the Black Owl) vs Frankenstein.

Prize Comics Universe vs Frankenstein

The actual story is quite short and shows up late in the issue.

Prize Comics 24

[ Prize Comics 24 ]

Thanks to a post from Boox99 over on the Golden Age Comics site, I also found out that Daredevil 1 which features many of the Lev Gleason heroes fighting Hitler.

Daredevil vs Hitler

[ Daredevil 01 ]

I find searching for such stories very difficult as most of my searches return World's Finest or JSA type of results. Anyone know of a nice list of such comics?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Saturn Knight on Android

Flashback Universe is proud to announce a great holiday surprise!

Working together with Robot Comics, Saturn Knight, the Knight Before Christmas is now available on the Android Marketplace for FREE!

Saturn Knight: The Knight Before Christmas details the first team-up with Flashback Universe's flagship super-hero Saturn Knight and Santa Claus. Blogger Chris Sims and illustrator Pierre Villeneuve create a colorful adventure optimized for Android mobiles and tablets.

3 Great ways to enjoy the Christmas Classic!

Read the Web Comic here!

Download the CBR here!

Download the Android Version here!

Have a Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mister Crimson Episode 50

Mister Crimson Episode 50
Wherein our hero asks Ace about his family...

Read it here .:

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas with Mother Goose

I hope everyone is prepared for the holidays - however you choose to celebrate them. Here are two great Dell Four Color Christmas Comics you can open early!

From ComicVine...

Four Color Comics, or just Four Color is a series that ran from 1939 and ended in 1962, it is known that the series had well over 1,000 issues but exactly how many isn't exactly determined because of skipped issues and reprints. The series finally came to an end with Issue #1354 and so at the moment the series holds the record for having the most issues published of any American comic book series as its nearest rivals are still below 900 issues (Action Comics and Detective Comics). But the series is still surpassed in length by British anthology comic, 2000 AD which is still being continuously published to this day.

~ ComicVine

Christmas With Mother Goose

[ Christmas With Mother Goose - Dell 4 Color 126 ]

Christmas With Mother Goose

[ Christmas With Mother Goose - Dell 4 Color 172 ]

- Enjoy!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dead Projects from 2009

Looking back on 2009, I wish we had gotten further along with a lot of projects. There are reasons we didn't have any new Flashback Universe comics last year, some financial and some logistical - what's hard for people who don't make comics to understand is that for every completed comic you see someone make, there are probably 4 or 5 that died along the way.

Here is some art from several of our dead projects from 2009...

First Up - a character sketch for a Zuda project I always refer to as Tempus Fugitives. This was going to be a sort of Dreadstar meets League of Extraordinary Gentlemen type of comic, and depending on how I feel from month to month, it's either still in the works or DOA. Design by Pierre Villeneuve.

Joan of Arc

Next we have this fantastic illustration of The Artifact from what was going to be a sort of Science Fiction Prison Break story set in a far distant future. Art by the amazingly talented Alessandro Ceccarelli, Colors by the Pantone Princess, Lizz Buenaventura

The Artifact

Finally, here is a cover for a Saturn Knight BackStory which Pierre pitched to me in the way of a storyboard - we would probably work on this story except that Pierre pitched an even better League of Monsters story to me which we decided to work on instead.

That's all for today - trust me, I have tons more, it's just a little depressing to poke around in the Dead Projects folder.

- Jim

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Abracadabra: The Further Adventures of Harry Houdini

HoudiniI can get easily sidetracked sometimes.

I was writing a series of Blog about essentially the various projects I have worked on in my career.... and at some point I was sidetracked into writing something else for my Blog.... then it lead me to write something else.... then again something else... and once more.... something else.

So here we are a few months later and I finally get back on track.

Okay... okay... Jim had to get me back on track.

But here we are.

At some point... I was very disappointed about some of the projects that I had worked on.

The last 2 or 3 projects I had worked on were not going to see print.

In most cases it meant making a dozen designs and at most about a dozen pages... not that much work... but still some work that would never pay off.

So I was getting a little tired of them projects made in exchange of some sort of future profits.

And I was getting tired of making projects with people who had not a single finished project to their credits. Who had no idea of what they really were doing.

So I decided to turn down projects with people who had not published a single comic/project yet.

No longer did I want to collaborate with people who did not have at least SOME sort of project under their belt.

This is where Abracadabra came in.

The guy behind the series already had a series that was about to see print... and I liked the various previews I saw of his upcoming project.

That told me that he at least was able to get a project done.

That he could at least reach the finish line and get his name out there.

At the time... I really wanted to get at least something out there with my name on it.

So although it was once more a project with some sort of promise of future profit... thanks to having at least some sort of finished project done... it got my attention.

Also... it was originally a project that was supposed to be an 8 pages story that would be part of some sort of anthology. So I figured that I had nothing to lose to make just them 8 pages.

At some point... I was told by one of the guys on the project that thanks to my pages (I had done about 4 of the 8 pages by then)... they were able to get a bigger publisher interested in the project and that it would be turned into a 4 issues mini-series.

But one of the conditions apparently was that they needed to know if the artist (meaning me) was willing to commit to drawing 4 issues.

I may have hesitated in my comment or something because at some point I was told not to draw anymore pages until I was told to get back behind the drawing board.

Alas I was already done with them pages by then... so all that was left to do was wait.

So I waited.... and waited... and waited.

After a couple of weeks of not getting ANY news... not a single e-mail... even just to tell me that they had no news yet... I was starting to fear the worse.

So I sent an e-mail asking what was going on.

Asking just for some sign of life... even just to tell me that they had nothing yet to tell me about the project.

Finally... I DID get a reply.

I was told that in the end... they had decided to go into another direction artistically.

Sad but expected after a few weeks of not getting any news at all.

I was not happy and reacted poorly.

I was scanning and sending each pages as I was finishing them. And each time... I was told that those were the best pages in the known multiverse.

So I was scratching my head at what went wrong.

But most of all.... I was disappointed of being kept in the dark. Of the lack of communication.

I understand that it is never fun to give someone bad news. But it is INFINITELY better than no news at all for weeks and weeks.

So I was more than blunt in voicing my dissatisfaction with how things were done.

But it was done and there is no way to turn back the clock.

All we can do is to try to learn from our mistakes and move forward.

Whenever I hear that someone wants to go with a different direction... I always wonder what that NEW direction will be....

So once I saw the final comic (at least they HAVE published the darn thing), it was drawn in the style of.... Hellboy.

Their NEW direction was to clone Mike Mignola`s work on Hellboy.

All they have to do is ask. ;)

Until next time.

Note From Jim: Below are the finished Pages Pierre produced for the Houdini comic. I remember hearing this story the first time and being sort of shocked that a company would do something like this to an artist, but I've long since learned that in the comic business, the standard procedure seems to be promise artists lots of rewards, and then completely forget about them later.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mister Crimson Episode 49

Mister Crimson Episode 49
Wherein our hero asks a question we have been wondering for a while.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Free Comics Monday: Spy Smasher

Of late I've been thinking about Spy Smasher. Mostly, wondering what would have become of him during the Cold War.

In the real world, Spy Smasher (alias Alan Armstrong) used his great wealth to battle Nazi spys during WW II. When the war ended, he changed his name to Crime Smasher and fought stateside threats up until Fawcett ceased publications around 1953.

According to the Wikipedia entry on Spy Smasher, DC touched on the hero's adventures during the Cold War in Power of Shazam 24, which I have not read, but the title Trial of the Scorpion and cover suggest I would really dig that issue. (I'll make a sad admission right here, I've not read all of the Ordway Shazam series. It came out when I was really hurting for money, so I gave up comics for a few years. I need to put that on my list of things to track down.)

Here are some early issues of Spy Smasher

Spy Smasher

[ Spy Smasher 3 ]

Spy Smasher 5

[ Spy Smasher 5 ]


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Check out Villain on Zuda!

Editor's Note: Today we present a special early weekend edition wherein Caine interviews Greg Smallwood, whose comic Villain, is the best Super Hero story we've ever seen in a Zuda Contest. I strongly encourage everyone who frequents this blog to check out Villain!

Villain on Zuda

Can you introduce yourself to the FBU readers? Have you participated in comics that we may have experienced in the past? Anything on Zuda?

Greg Smallwood: I currently live and work in a little town outside of Kansas City, Kansas. Villain is actually my first comic book work. Prior to this, my only professional illustration work has been done as a freelancer for advertising agencies and various local businesses.

Can you tell us about your comic? How much development went into the concept as a whole? Upon reading the 8 pages on Zuda it looks as if you may have a mini superhero universe of your own supporting Villain. Did you produce all of it: art, writing, colors, etc?

Greg: For the unitiated, Villain is about a smart-assed super villain, Shockwave, who is sent away to a prison planet for all of the crimes he's committed. The planet, Atticus, has no guards, no indigenous life, and is home to hundreds of exiled super villains like Shockwave. The most obvious inspiration is Escape from New York but I was also heavily influenced by other films and books like No Escape and Lord of the Flies. It's familiar ground but I think what will set Villain apart from the rest is the focus I'm putting on the main character itself. At it's core, the story is about a nihilist being forced to confront the black and white world that we live in and make a choice. All he ever sees is the gray and I really want to explore what happens when he is forced to abandon his apathy.

Check out the Villain Promo Video on YouTube!

I've done quite a bit of planning for Villain. Planning is my form of procrastination. And thanks to that procrastination, I've got a story outline that could cover several issues. It'll be great if I get to tell that story.

Part of that story is the mini-universe that Shockwave exists in. I really get a kick out of creating characters so I'll have no shortage of villains for my prisoner population. I felt it was really important to flesh out these characters in the development stage so that when the reader sees them for only a few panels, there's a feeling of authenticity there. I want these characters to look and talk like they have a history and personality and I feel that all of that comes from planning. I remember hearing that Michael Mann (director of Heat and Collateral) will assemble whole books of background information for his actors so that they REALLY know their character and, in turn, feel real to the audience. That always stuck with me and I applied the same approach to Villain.

As for the writing and art, all of it was done by me. It's a pretty even combination of hand-drawn and digital art. I wanted it to look like a mainstream superhero book and sticking to the traditional methods of producing comic art was essential to that.

While some superhero content does appear on Zuda it's definately dwarfed in comparison by other genres. Did this fact play a factor in your decision making process on what to submit?

Greg: If anything, the lack of superheroes on Zuda almost discouraged me from doing Villain. I wasn't sure if it was the Zuda staff itself that didn't like the genre or if the votes just weren't there for superhero stories. But being accepted into the competition and receiving such positive feedback from readers seems to suggest something else. I think the lack of superhero comics on Zuda is more indicative of the comic book industry as a WHOLE rather than just the website. Independent creators and companies seem to shy away from attempting superhero stories and view the genre itself as a "cornered market" for DC and Marvel. But in my opinion, the superhero genre is just as viable, open, and free as any other genre and I feel there's a lot left to explore in it. Hopefully, more future Zuda creators will begin to feel the same way.

Mugshots from Villain

Can you take us through the general process of submitting the comic? How long did it take to complete the pages? What kind of communication do you get back from Zuda once you click "Submit"? How long does it take to find out if your accepted?

Greg: Once you hit that "Submit" button, you can end up waiting anywhere from a week to three months to hear anything. For me, it was just about a week shy of three months. It might seem like a long wait to hear any kind of confirmation but at least everyone who submits gets an answer. It may not be the one they want but it's more than most publishers offer. For untested writers and artists like myself, it's a wonderful platform and opportunity.

Do you have plans for Villain beyond Zuda? Whether you win or loose? Will people be able to stay up to date on your Villain blog?

If winning the competition doesn't happen, I'd still like to continue Villain somewhere else. Whether that be in print or online, I'm just not sure. Whatever the case may be, I'll continue updating the blog to keep everyone posted. I'd love to take my new fans with me wherever Villain ends up.

SuicideWhat your doing, if anything, to attract a fan base and get the word out?

Greg: My marketing campaign so far has consisted of a LOT of e-mailing. I've started the Villain Comic blog as well as a Facebook fan page. I've relied heavily on my friends and family getting the word out (specifically on social networking sites) and their support has been invaluable. My next step will be getting the word out to the local comic shops, specifically, Clint's Comics in Kansas City and Astro Kitty Comics in Lawrence. Only time will tell how well my promotion is working but at this point, I'm just doing what I can.

Greg: If Zuda sent you an email stating that they wouldn't accept Villain but gave you a free pass to submit something else what would that have been?

If an instant win was a guarantee, I probably would have done a steampunk superhero story. Both genres fascinate me and, other than Gotham by Gaslight (which is more Victorian than steampunk), you really don't see them mixed together. I originally thought about going that route but wasn't sure how well it would be received. Maybe I'll make that my next project!

Thank you for the interview Greg and GOOD LUCK!

Have a great weekend,

- Caine

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pierre Speaks: The Eternal Marathon

Not what I was planning to write.... but after a discussion with one of my colleagues, I HAD to write this Blog instead.

One comment that often comes back when talking with many artists is how working on a project is often like running a marathon. Depending on who you talk to, each episode itself is a marathon... but for others.... working on a series is like running a marathon.

If you work as a designer, you must deliver one episode each week.... kind of short in my book to call it a marathon. If you work as a storyboard artist, you usually have 6 weeks to produce a storyboard. That can start to look like a marathon.

But a series usually means 4 to 6 months of constant running to meet deadline after deadline, week after week after week. Now THAT in my book looks like a marathon.

When running a marathon, you must pace yourself so that you have enough energy to last until the end of the race... in this case.... the end of the project. You can run full blast for a week to produce a single episode. It is fairly easy to work 40, 60 or 80 hrs a week for just one week.
Although a little harder, you can run somewhat full speed for 6 weeks to produce a single storyboard. Tough... but it is doable. But for an entire project?? Much harder to run at full speed for the whole project.

So you MUST find a way to pace yourself.

You must find a work habit that will make you last until the end of the project. You must make sure that you will have enough juice to last until the end of the marathon. Me... I think that a marathon is a piece of cake compared to working on a project as an artist. As an artist... no sooner are you done running your marathon, that you must start running the very next marathon. Heck sometimes.... you have to run two marathons at once.

A perfect example is the projects that I am working on right now.

There is still at least a month’s work left on the series I was working on, and I started working on the next series about a month ago. So I am working on two series at once as I write this (and that goes without counting the awesome Blogs that you guys get to read each week, and whatever work on Flashback Universe pages or designs I can squeeze in).

Now before you ask.... I am not making twice the money. It is expected that I can juggle both projects with one hand tied behind my back. If I was working for two different studios... I would be collecting two paychecks . But since I am working on staff for one studio on both projects... the second project is seen somewhat as the continuation of the first one.

In an ideal world.... I would have been done on the first project on a Friday.... and the next Monday, I would have started working on the second project. Or even better, we would have had a week off between both projects. Sadly this is not an ideal world with rainbows and unicorns.

So you take the work when it’s available, even if it is not really reasonable. Even if it means you will be wayyyyy overworked for a month or two. Even if it means that for a month or two.... you will be running two marathons at the same time. Being a workaholic.... I don’t really mind it.

I am literally married to my job... so it is not much of a sacrifice to spend 90% of my time at the studio or behind my drawing table. But for those who are actually married with half a dozen kids.... it can be tough.

It is not much different when you are making comics.

You must learn to pace yourself.

Often I see people who will put a lot of work and energy into doing their first page... with lots and lots and lots of details. You can usually tell that they have worked hard on their page. But by the time they make it to page two.... not as much detail... not as much work. Already you can see that they have a tough time keeping up with the pace they have tried to set for themselves with that first page.

Then comes page 3.... with less than half the amount of detail you found on page one.

Wayyyyyy too often.... I will see people who have a truckload of three pages comics.... but nothing else.

Who were never able to finish a single comic. Heck who have a truckload of half finished pages.
It is easy to be inspired for a day on a project... two days. But making comic takes a lot more than 2 days.

So it is easy being inspired the day you have your “awesome idea” of making a comic with Dracula as a cowboy or something.... but after a few days.... some people give up or their “awesome idea” that really inspired them (remember what I wrote about inspiration??).
Making comics take time.

Just pencilling the darn thing can take a month.... more if you try to make some highly detailed pages. Then inking the pages can take just as long. Then coloring them pages... etc.
Now imagine if you must do many of those steps yourself.

So when you have your awesome idea.... you better REALLY like it.... because if you are working full time on it... you may be working on it for the next few months.

And if you are working on it on the side... you may be working on your comic for a year.
So you better pace yourself if you want to last until the end of your project. Heck too often I see some people look at what we do at Flashback Universe saying how THEY could do it. Heck even how THEY could do it better.

Usually based on one highly photorealistic hyper-detailed drawing they did that took them a week to do.... and it was just that one drawing.

Usually I answer them “Do a full page. Then 3 pages. Then 10 pages. Then 22 pages. And heck.... in the case of most Flashback Universe comics.... 40 pages. Once you manage to do that... THEN they can claim that they can do that.”

I would continue by saying that “Talk is cheap... let’s see what THEY actually CAN do.”
But in general.... just telling them to do more than just that one drawing, more than just one half finished page is enough to shut them up.

Yes it is a little blunt... but too often I see people who can barely draw more than one page say stuff like that.

Too often those who cannot even run for 20 feet will tell those who can run a marathon.... or even multiple marathons.... that they could do that.

But since they cannot pace themselves.... they will never run further than 20 feet. ;)

Until next time.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mister Crimson Episode 48

Mister Crimson Episode 48
Wherein we learn a startling secret about They Mayor

Read it here .:

Monday, December 7, 2009

Master Comics: Captain Marvel meets Bulletman

Here are two issues from Fawcett that in the Top Ten of many Fawcett fans (and Golden Age comic fans as well.) The first is Master Comics 21 in which a Mac Raboy drawn Captain Marvel teams up with Bulletman to fight Captain Nazi.

Some fans find Raboy's version of Captain Marvel a little off putting, but I think it's awesome to see how he applies his more realistic style to Captain Marvel. The second issue is the one that follows with Captain Marvel Jr. teaming up with Bulletman.

Thinking about the some of the comments I've seen about Mac Raboy version of Captain Mavel reminds me of how divided people are on the Don Newton version of the character that came out in 1980 as a feature in World's Finest comics. Anybody but me remember that series? I'd like to see it in some nice collected edition, as Don Newton was an incredible artist AND a real Captain Marvel fan and when you see the art he produced for the series, you can see he was really putting his heart into the project.

Master Comics 21

[ Master Comics 21 ]

Master Comics 22

[ Master Comics 22 ]

- Enjoy!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Bronze Age Spotlight: The Joker

The Joker 1Editor's Note: Today I am happy to present another Bronze Age Spotlight from Crom who last gave us a great spotlight on Luke Cage. Today Crom has returned and offers us his opinions on The Joker series from the 70's. - Jim

Death of a Clown

So you’ve finished reading your book for the night, your glass of milk is empty. You ease the bindings shut, and place it back on the shelf while reaching over to turn the reading light off -- and that’s when you see the clown standing on your lawn, his painted smile wheezing hot breath, fogging your living room window.

While you entertain this nightmare, it should come as no surprise that The Joker was voted, time and time again, as the highest rated villain in comic history. There are few things that chill the blood as much as the knock knock joke that melts off a face. But the Joker can deliver, so naturally they tried to push him out from under the Bat shaped shadow, into his own circus spotlight.

In 1975, DC commissioned two of its veterans to come up with The Joker’s own book. Julius Schwartz, long time editor in the DC universe, and at the helm of the Batman title since the mid-60’s, got together with Denny O’Neil, a writer that Schwartz himself advocated to DC. O’Neil had already been writing the Batman book for a few years, and had a grip on the characters. It seemed like a bullet proof idea.

The series only managed to pump out nine issues, and the quality being what it was - nine issues too many. The Joker pushed the clown antics of the character to the top, and shrank the vicious acts down to nothing more than a few seemingly random acts of violence. Playing tag with Two-Face, coaching dime-store criminals through their post-thieving crying jags, and general tom-foolery worthy of Benny Hill, the book painted what was a symbol of humanity’s horror’s, into a buffoon who occasionally drops a safe on someone.

O’Neil and Schwartz fell victim to the Clown.

The Clown: is a violent, horrible fellow, but even with grotesque costumes, and exaggerated features, the clown still makes us laugh. The Clown creates a frame through his performance. It lets us consider the sad, wobbling failures of humanity, but at a distance - outside of ourselves. By employing the prat fall, the clown can show us our doubts, fears, and sadness, all through the catharsis of laughter.

The Joker: is a violent, horrible fellow, who laughs alone. The Joker shatters the frame, and perverts the performance so that the failure of humanity is brought close to home by making his audience live it. The tools of the clown; the smiling face, the odd costume, joy buzzers, and balloons are used as a key past our defenses, but with the Joker - it’s to fill us with terror.

The book embraced the former, and forgot the latter. It’s difficult to feel the full power of fear the Joker is capable of when he’s robbing a gum-ball machine, and spraying Onion juice in your eyes, only to detonate an explosive whoopie cushion on a security guard, so that he can steal a box of novelty items, that serve no narrative purpose.

His performance was neutered and made laughable; antics without truth. They forgot why he wears the purple suit, the face like makeup. Why there’s balloons and toys, with happy music. They forgot the most important part of Joker.

There’s nothing funny about that Clown in your window.

Top 10 Most ridiculous Moments in The Joker

Joker vs Joker#10 - Joker as Batman... As Joker?
In Issue nine, The Joker's attempt to steal a famous cat actor is foiled by none other than the Catwoman. But when the Catwoman knocks out the Joker, pretending to be a famous actor, he's forced to track down the real deal in order to snatch back the kitty he intended to ransom.

In the midst of his plans, Benny Springer, the movie clown, plays both villains for fools, by dressing up as the Joker himself. Giving us four pages of the Joker battling the Joker.

#9 Rodney Dangerfield providing weapons?
In issue 6, The Joker squares off against Sherlock Holmes; or at least a dazed actor who believes he’s the world’s greatest detective. While fighting on a golf course, The Joker momentarily distracts Holmes by firing a net out of a club-filled golf bag. Very reminiscent of Caddyshack technology.

#8 Overkill
We all know Joker is an irrational being, but in issue 5, he goes from irrational, to downright silly. In his thirst for novelty items, The Joker detonates a warehouse guy an explosion that appears to vaporize half the room. Then makes off with a crate of gag items, worth approximately ten dollars.

#7 Onion juice... seriously?
In issue 2, The Joker is pursued throughout by two bungling Arkham guards, who are determined to get their jobs back by capturing the Clown Prince again. When they confront him on the street, he produces two small bulbs, and squeezes them, shooting onion juice into their eyes.

Onion Juice?

#6 Need a light?

For no apparent reason, The Joker feels compelled to horrible murder a guard, who isn’t guarding anything in issue 5. When the guard asks for a light, The Joker produces a small zippo-type lighter, that sprays a jet of fire into the guards face, who laughs while burning. Ridiculous, and disturbing...

#5 Super Stretch Arms!
As an Arkham guard attempts to bring Joker in, he discovers that the arms he’s attached his cuffs too, are in fact another great punchline. As they snap back, tripping the guard, Joker covers his mouth, with a knockout juice soaked rag...

#4 Bottle Rockets. No, I’m not kidding...
In issue 7, Joker and Lex Luthor are hanging out togther, as they typically do (wha?). Forced to make a daring escape from a road side diner, Luthor fills up several pop bottles with “paint scraped off the walls” and a few other doo-dads, to create pop-bottle jets. He and Joker fly off into another daring escape.

#3 Making off with the Gumballs...

In issue 2, the Joker befriends a fellow thief, with a really emotional problem. Any time Willy The Weeper steals something, he breaks into a fit of tears. The Joker, determined to cure him, takes him out to start stealing on a small scale, in order to dispel his crying. This results in Willy and the Clown Prince of Crime, robbing a gumball machine. That’s right... they steal all the pennies inside.

#2 Mag... Pie?
While squaring off against the Scarecrow, The Joker is forced to deal with his annoying Crow, that spreads fear toxin around the area. In order to dispatch it, The Joker hurls an intricately iced cake at the bird, which promptly detonates like ten pounds of dynamite. However, fret not PETA, as in the very next panel, it's revealed that the bird survived the explosion (via editorial mandate no doubt.)

#1 Two Face gets Blinded by Hair

In issue one, the Joker spends much of the issue attempting to foil Two Face's latest scheme because the duel natured dastard refused to free the Joker from prison while escaping. The Joker spends the issue thwarting Two Face at every turn with tried and true Joker gimmicks (creme filled pies laced with acid.) However, the highlight of the issue is when Joker stymies Two Face by throwing his own steel-like hair into Harvey’s eyes.

Have a great weekend!

- Crom


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