Ron Perazza and Daniel Govar have been making waves in the comic industry for several years now. Perazza started his career working on Marvel trading cards, and eventually became the editorial director for DC’s Zuda Comics imprint. Govar comes more from an animation background, but caught comics’ attention with Azure, published through Zuda. Last year, they launched a new project called Comic Book Think Tank, largely as an avenue for them to explore the notions of webcomics in a very public space. As part of that exploration, they’ve created their own webcomics viewer, Yanapax, which they’re making freely available to anyone. Both Perazza and Govar sat down to talk about how they came to create CBTT, what they’re doing with it, and where they’re going with it. Govar was even kind enough to provide MTV Geek with an exclusive look at some of his art for one of their next stories.
Geek: How much interaction do you still have with the other folks from Zuda?
Govar: I still talk with many of the ZUDA creators. In a lot of ways ZUDA was a rite of passage for many – especially the few of us sole creators. Write, pencil, ink, color, letter, promote, and correspond and interact with fans and visitors – not a lot of people could relate. I am part of an art collective with Mike Walton of DUAL and a number of other artists (outlandcollective.com), and have collaborated with him on a short story on his False Positive comic/site (really one of the best webcomics out there IMHO). Other creators from ZUDA I consider lifelong friends, and others I see regularly at conventions. ZUDA was probably one of the best introductions to making comics one could have, from my perspective. Everyone I dealt with in the competition and afterwards were encouraging and helpful while never sugar-coating the realities of making comic books.
Perazza: That goes for me as well. There are a few former ZUDA creators in the New York area that I consider lifelong friends and see regularly. I've also stayed in touch with some of the staffers that aren't in comics any more and other creators as well, even though they're not local.
Geek: How did you two go from 'talking shop' to the more formal exercise that Think Tank is?
Perazza: I don't remember exactly. I think I sent Dan and email along the lines of, "Hey, I have an idea. It probably won’t make us any money and will take up an incredible amount of free time." To which he replied, "I'm in!"
Govar: Ha! – That’s pretty close. We had chatted about collaborating on another comic project (who knows we might see that on CBTT down the line), and due to both our crazy schedules we had to shelve. Then Ron sent that email about another idea – something that could showcase what a digital comic could do – something where we could push and pull at the boundaries of what was possible. I was really anxious to see what Ron had in mind and the leapt at the chance to be involved in figuring out the “how” part of the puzzle.
Geek: Is that, then, what ultimately became "Relaunch"?
Govar: Yes – it began with some back and forth questions; figuring out how we wanted the story to be told, and progressed to concept art, layouts, etc…
Perazza: I think approaching the comic with a very fluid process, a lot of respect for each others ideas and with the understanding that it might just all be academic – an experiment that yields nothing – ultimately helped us in the long run. It was very ego-less and we were able to make decisions based purely on what we thought worked best.
Geek: I've read in another interview, I think, where you discussed what you called more of a dashboard approach to storytelling, where you likened comic book panels to all the different readouts on your car dashboard. That's pretty directly evident in "Relaunch" where many of the panels are in fact displays and readouts that Alix and Cris are looking at. It reminds me a bit of the television screens Frank Miller used in The Dark Knight Returns in terms of both form and function, but they come across very differently here since each page is overlaid exactly over the previous one. Can you speak to how you think the differences in execution (print versus digital) impact the reading experience? How would "Relaunch" read differently if the same pages were presented as a printed piece? As creators, would you even want to see that?
Govar: Early on Ron and I agreed that this experiment wasn’t a “digital first” approach but a “digital only” approach. It was never meant to be translated to print, as the dashboard effect would be lost in the translation. Similarly, we did not want it to be carved up into panels with a guided approach, as this would also lose the simultaneous nature of the storytelling. In general my philosophy has been that print and digital are actually different markets, and that while some content can be developed to work for both, content developed for one specifically will always trump content that is repackaged to work in a different market. With print you can do things like double page spreads which just don’t translate as well on a digital platform – the wow factor just isn’t as big and bold. Likewise, features like the dashboard effect, or transitional effects like blurs and rack-focus, are lost in a print translation.
Perazza: Dan hit the nail on the head. RELAUNCH is final just as it is. Just because you can repurpose assets for a different medium doesn’t always mean you should. If there were ever to be a print version of RELAUNCH, I think I’d want to treat it as an all-new project.
Geek: This dashboard approach obviously wouldn't be appropriate for every type of story, but I'd be curious to see how well it might work in a decidedly un-technological genre like, say, Victorian romance. I can imagine ways that might be implemented but I honestly have no idea how successful it would be. Any thoughts on exploring similar storytelling devices outside of science fiction just to see how it works?
Govar: I’m not sure I agree about it not being appropriate – I think if you think of this form of storytelling as the only type, you start seeing how most stories could work this way.
Perazza: That's absolutely right. It’s really no different than, say, using a movie camera to make a Science Fiction film and the same technology to film a Victorian Romance. It's all in the execution.
Govar: For instance, conversational talking-head scenes actually work better using this type of storytelling, in my opinion. I think this type of storytelling goes beyond genres. Really when you think about it anything that is time-based – because that’s really what you are playing with: the concept of time – could work using dashboard storytelling. Instead of turning a page and having panels propel you forward in time, the reader is stationary in time moving forward on the screen – the way a dashboard’s dials and meters move in unison – in time. I’d love to tackle a different genre using this form of storytelling. I’d love to see others do it!
Geek: One of the other key components of Comic Book Think Tank, it seems to me, is your process blog. You're going through these experiments in digital comics, but also sharing some of your thought processes and development notes. You're presenting it with an almost Eastern philosophy of the journey being more important than the destination. I'm not seeing much in the way public comments, though; I would think other creators in particular would be interested in seeing how you put some of this together. Have creators been asking questions or providing feedback in other venues, or have you mostly just been hearing from fans at this point?
Govar: I love the Blog. I wish I had more time to devote to it, but I think that’s the way with most blogs. I’ve talked to a number of creators who has asked questions privately via Facebook, through my fan page there, as well as twitter, and DeviantArt. Additionally I’ve received a lot of emails saying thanks for the process notes. It’s true we get more private correspondence than public correspondence – some of which sparks occasional twitter conversations. There are a number of print pros who have sent me notes and questions about doing something digital. That’s a lot of why we made the blog and the site. In hopes that our experiments might help others make better digital content – learn from our failures and successes.
Geek: Speaking of other creators, one of the pieces of CBTT that I think has gotten the short shrift in other interviews has been Yanapax, your online comics viewing software that you've made freely available. With any number of viewing options out there, what prompted you to create Yanapax? What are you trying to do with it that other people aren't doing with theirs?
Perazza: I don't know if we were trying to do something others weren't. Certainly not in a way where we were looking for some kind of "competitive edge."
Govar: The goal is to give creators something that is out of the box usable, and most of all, free. I think one of the biggest excuses I hear about creating digital comics, is the technology barrier for most. There have been a number of viewers made, but they either don’t work well with tablets, or have clunky buttons and poor experiences, or are very unintuitive. I think the main thing we wanted was a viewer that was flexible for different forms of storytelling – that was specifically geared for dashboard or infinite style. For instance, it has dozens of transitions built in, all of which can be adjusted for timing from page to page, but we have so far only used simple fades. In the two comics we currently have up on CBTT, we show two radically different forms of storytelling, using the same viewer. There are still so many possible ways it can be used, and again, this is only the beta version…
Geek: It's a little early yet, I think, for Yanapax to have gotten a lot of widespread use, but have you been hearing back from other creators who've started using it for their work?
Govar: Not as yet, but I know a good number have downloaded and donated some to Yanapax.
Perazza: Yeah, there's definitely a lot of curiosity about it. I haven't seen any implementations yet but people are starting to try and figure out if its right for them. I think people are kind of taken aback by how flexible it is.
Govar: The developer Oscar [Gagliardi] has answered a few questions that have come to him from some comickers. I’ve heard from about a dozen creators who have talked about using it for future projects, so hopefully we will see a wave of them in the future.
Geek: What else, if anything, do you want to do with Yanapax? Would updates be limited to just working with new operating systems and such, or do you have more features planned for it?
Govar: More features and platforms. Oscar loves his new Nexus and has been developing sniffers specific to that platform. Additionally we have discussed a backend that is web-based and a simple one pager to create and set-up a new comic, so there would be no need for FTPs or editing an XML file. There are others we’ve talked about it, but we are anxious to see what the response is. One other feature we’ve discussed is a “take it with you” feature to download chapters and save them locally.
Geek: You guys are clearly putting a lot of thought into what online comics can be, and I think you've hit on some great ideas even in the fairly short time you've been working on this. But I want to go back to Ron's comment about taking up a lot of time and not making any money. There seems to be an additional level of thought that needs to go into producing the types of comics you've been making; these aren't pieces where you have a story you want to tell, and just draw it out over however many panels you need. How might you envision some of these ideas being translated by someone who's earning a living by doing webcomics? Are these ideas that can be readily appropriated by a Scott Kurtz or a Phil Foglio?
Govar: I think it is easily adaptable, if not more so.
Perazza: I agree. Good ideas and inspirations can come from anywhere so there's no reason why someone couldn't take any of the storytelling methods or even elements of the technology we're using and adapt them in ways that suit their specific needs.
Govar: Ads for instance can be easily integrated into the player bar at the bottom of the viewer, as well as full page adverts that can actually be “hot” – linking to content and purchase pages for goods and services. One thing that content developers are always mindful of is “bounce rate”. Comics with this type of immersive content tends to have a very low bounce rate. Viewers want to stay till the end, and they want to move backwards and forwards to see things changing onscreen. I think webcomic makers have probably had similar notions already. I’d love to see them making comics in this style. For those with shopping carts and purchase pages, Yanapax is easily integrated into pay models.
Geek: So what determines, for you guys, whether Comic Book Think Tank is a success or not? Is that question even valid here?
Govar: I’m not sure it’s valid. I consider it a success when the comic we set out to make functions as the experiment was intended. If it doesn’t quite work right, we learned something – and the nice thing about the web and digital content; we can change it to make it work! No need to reprint.
Perazza: Exactly. At the risk of sounding like a purist, this all started because we wanted to have fun telling stories and being creative. That's really what it’s about.
Geek: Finally, what other CBTT experiments are you working on now that you'll be able to share soon?
Govar: We have plans for a couple of other chapters for RELAUNCH. We had a lot of people asking what happened next.
Perazza: Yeah, the general feedback about RELAUNCH has been extremely positive.
Govar: Chapter Two is in the works.
Geek: Brilliant! Thanks very much!