By Sean Kleefeld

In a previous column, we looked at how webcomics often allow creators more creative freedom by removing editors and syndicates. The webcomic is what the creator wants to say, without any filters between him/herself and the audience. Not only can they comment on people and events that a publisher might feel gunshy about, they can make an ongoing commentary on other comics... using the very comics themselves.

As computers have become more and more pervasive in our society, it has become easier and easier for individuals to re-appropriate existing content. Digital duplication can be done in the comfort of one’s own home in a matter of seconds, and reproductions do not suffer degradation that would occur in analog copies. In other words, it’s ridiculously simple to copy and edit someone else’s comic to alter the meaning.

“Borrowing” others’ intellectual property is hardly new. The “Tijuana Bibles ” of the early 20th century regularly used comic characters like Popeye, Mutt & Jeff, Dagwood, Little Orphan Annie and Nancy & Sluggo to unapologetically capitalize on the characters’ popularity for a quick buck. But at the time, artists had to be employed to recreate the characters in order to obtain even moderately credible likenesses.

While that type of art can still be found today, the more interesting reappropriations are the ones who modify the original comics in order to make a direct comment about them.

One of the more successful examples is Garfield Minus Garfield in which Dan Walsh takes existing Garfield comics by Jim Davis and simply removes the title character from them. Within the context of the original strip, Garfield doesn’t actually speak so Walsh has gone about removing the character to highlight the “the existential angst of a certain young Mr. Jon Arbuckle. It is a journey deep into the mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness and depression in a quiet American suburb.”

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Webcomics collective ACT-I-VATE launched a new series today, The Revolution Will Be Televised." The comic is by cartoonist Dev Torbin and is his first-hand account of the recent revolution in Egypt:

"It tells the story of two American travelers who, through clouds of tear gas, watch a country evolve and find themselves altered by the experience."

"The Revolution Will Be Televised" will be updated weekly and is available free to read at ACT-I-VATE!

Related Posts:
It's 'Bunnies Everywhere' On ACT-I-VATE!
ACT-I-VATE's Maurice Fontenot Talks About "Ghost Pimp"

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You can never have too much of a good thing, right? Especially not cute fluffy widdle adorable bunny-rabbits???

The latest installment of the new ACT-I-VATE anthology webcomic, Everywhere, answers this very serious question. Written by Chris Miskiewicz with art by Harvey-Nominated Bobby Timony (DC's The Night Owls), "Bunnies Everywhere" explores what happens when an unexplained massive accumulation of bunnies take over the neighborhood. One thing is for certain: there's gonna be hanky-panky!

You can read the latest installment of Everywhere, "Bunnies Everywhere," right here for free!

Related Posts:
Wild Animals 'Everywhere' - Writer Chris Miskiewicz talks his ACT-I-VATE Series
ACT-I-VATE's Maurice Fontenot Talks About "Ghost Pimp"

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By Sean Kleefeld

In 2001, Hans Rickheit gained some notoriety when he won a Xeric Award for his first graphic novel, Chloe. More recently, The Squirrel Machine was published by Fantagraphics in 2009 to an excellent critical response. Late that same year, he launched his first webcomic, the 600ish page Ectopiary, which he’d been updated weekly until a couple weeks ago when the shop where he worked closed down. He’s taking some time to focus on securing a new job, while asking for fans of his webcomic to purchase some of his printed material. It seemed like an ideal time to not only showcase his work, but also examine some of the issues that are involved with creating a webcomic while holding another job.

MTV Geek: I'd read in a previous interview that some of your influences include Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco and Franz Kafka. Powerful creators, certainly, but not ones I would think that would have resonated with a child, even though Ionesco did try his hand at a few children's books. I'm curious about your childhood experiences that led you look at comics and storytelling. Who or what were some of your earliest influences?

Hans Rickheit: I was slow to develop as a child. I did not learn to speak until I was 6 years old. I probably would not have developed an interest in learning to reading if it weren't for the need to decipher the comics books I had in my possession. The comic books I read at the time were the usual Marvel Comics: Spider-Man, X-Men, Incredible Hulk. Like most Americans of my generation, the television was the babysitter in the house as I was growing up. I remember being very fond of programs like Doctor Who, Star Trek and Land of the Lost without the slightest sense of incredulity regarding their minimal production values, cheesy scripts and primitive special effects.

My biggest influence from childhood was my own subconscious mind; the dreams and free-associations that only a vulnerable inexperienced intellect can produce.

Geek: Was that something you were actively tapping into for your creative expression at the time? That is, were you drawing pictures or writing stories of what you had dreamt earlier? Or were those dreams more influential in terms of broad themes?

HR: I've been drawing comics before I could talk. Everything filtered through them, including dreams. I can't pinpoint when, as a child, I consciously used dreams as subject material. At the time I drew mainly superheroes battling giant monsters. Read More...

By Sean Kleefeld

Many webcomics allow you to start reading anywhere in the series. Even if it’s not specifically written in the classic gag-a-day format, there could well be enough information on any given page to allow you to step into the story seamlessly. But many other webcomics are take advantage of the endless supply of pages to tell more longer-form stories. They’re meant to be read over a period of years with more dramatic payoffs down the road. So what do you, the reader, do when you come across a webcomic like this...

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Publisher Top Shelf has for a few years been running its Top Shelf 2.0 initiative, with daily releases of installments of titles by indie creators like Emi Lenox (Emitown), Edward J. Grug III (Glorious Bounty), and J.D. Wilkes. And now you can add Colleen Coover and Paul Tobin to that mix, whose Gingerbread Girl is being serialized via TS 2.0, leading up to the May release of a print edition of the story.

Tobin and Coover were kind enough to talk to MTV about the series, the value of the digital platform, and the eventual collected edition of the story.

MTV Geek: How did the concept of Gingerbread Girl come about? And what brought it to the Top Shelf 2.0 platform?

Colleen Coover: We like to always have something of our own in the works while we are also making our living doing work for hire. We started Gingerbread Girl a little before we started getting regular work at Marvel Comics. I think Paul had the original idea after he read a book about neurobiology, which is where he learned about the concept of the Penfield Homunculus, the parts of the brain that correspond to the sense of touch at various parts of the body. Like most of his scripts, the story germinated from that little seed.

Paul Tobin: It originally wasn’t [part of Top Shelf 2.0], but as [Top Shelf publisher, production manager, and art director] Brett Warnock was talking to us about how to go about best presenting the project, we discussed how the “online” element had done so well on Matt Kindt’s Super Spy, and the online idea began to be very alluring. Serializing it online allows us to gain a wide readership, and also, in effect, present a great advertisement on a twice-weekly basis. Everybody wins.

Geek: Was the story originally being written with the kind of short, discrete chapters it has now?

PT: Absolutely. Because there are so many varied narrators it was, from the start, presented in bite-sized chunks as each of the narrators makes their point. When we made the “online” decision, Colleen and I sat down with the expectation that it would take us the whole night to decide where each online chapter would begin and end. A half-hour later we were done. It was simple. We probably then frittered away the rest of the night watching soccer, playing video games, or solving universal secrets. Time well spent, assuredly.

Geek: Tell us a little about the story itself.

PT: It’s a mystery story revolving around the central character, Annah, who believes she has a twin sister that was crafted from her Penfield Homunculus, a roughly human-shaped section of the brain that is responsible for the sense of touch. There is, however, no evidence that Ginger (the sister) exists, other than Annah’s personal claims. A series of narrators (female lovers, male lovers, a pigeon, bulldog, store clerk, magician, etc) then discuss if the “Ginger” claims are true… or if they have something to do with the trauma of the divorce of Annah’s parents, which coincidentally happened at the same time Ginger was “born.”

Geek: Could you tell us a little about Annah and the visual design of the character?

CC: I picked up on some of Paul’s descriptions of her from the script, in particular when she says her face is freckled and her knees are bony. From that, and her character as a whole, I envisioned her as fair-skinned, maybe a strawberry blonde. She’s feminine, bit with a bit of tomboy in her. Read More...

By Sean Kleefeld

Let’s take a look at how webcomics are created. In traditional comics, large scale printing techniques were historically imprecise, and so creators got into the habit of providing broad strokes and flat colors that could be reproduced easily and legibly. While printing technologies have definitely improved, a lot of print creators continue to work in much the same way, perhaps digitizing their work by using a stylus instead of pencils and brushes. And, while other approaches (photography, collage, etc.) were taken in print, webcomic creators are using increasingly diversified means of production more and more.

It stands to reason that a comic that will be viewed digitally would be created digitally. It’s no surprise, then, to see comics like The Wannabe Pirates created using 3D modeling software.

Having created the main characters and locations once, Mark Largent can focus the strip’s structure and not worry so much about maintaining a character’s look. Each time a character appears, he or she is literally a copy of the previous appearance. The same holds true for locations and objects; once a dock or a tavern is created, it doesn’t need to be re-created ever again.

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Webcomic collective ACT-I-VATE recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. And to celebrate, they've launched a new anthology series by musician, filmmaker, and writer, Chris Miskiewicz called Everywhere. I'll let Chris fill you in on the particulars of the premise, but the rough sketch is that each installment involves a particular animal overrunning the globe and how the population responds. With a new artist in tow for each episode, Miskiewicz plans to mine the comedy and horror from a world overrun by spiders, horses, and yes, bunnies.

MTV Geek: So you mentioned that the idea for Everywhere sprang from a drunken brainstorming session—tell us a little about that.

Chris Miskiewicz: I was with artist Andrew Wendel in the Mark Bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn discussing another project when we got very drunk, started riffing, and came up with the concept for Everywhere. I believe his line was “anything can happen in comics” in reference to always drawing talking heads while wanting to draw stuff that was based in fantasy.

When I sobered up, I read through a dozen cocktail napkins and started scripting. I had the first six scripts finished by the end of the week. Then I sent them to Dean Haspiel to get his opinion, and he called a few hours later saying, “Don’t pitch this to anyone else. This is an ACT-I-VATE comic.”

Geek: What was the appeal of the concept for you?

CM: A few things. For those who are unfamiliar with the premise of Everywhere it’s an EC Comics-type horror-parody that sits very well within a Twilight Zone theme. Read More...

PAX East hit Boston this past weekend, and the hobby gaming scene was larger than ever. As attendees made their way into the tabletop area, they were greeted by an unexpected sight: a banner announcing an official Axe Cop card game. After a week of teasing fans online, Steve Jackson Games has finally revealed the focus of their first-ever licensed Munchkin card game.

Axe Cop, a webcomic drawn by Ethan Nicolle (age 29) and written by his little brother Malachai (age 5) has been surging in popularity since it launched in early 2010. Between the free-reign nature of independent comics and the unconventional creative pair, Axe Cop has been able to create an unpredictable yet lighthearted story. In short, Axe Cop is a comic with a premise so crazy that it just might work, and it did.

Munchkin is a card game system that works primarily because of how silly it is, making it a perfect match for Axe Cop. We spoke with Steve Jackson during PAX (look for our full interview later this week), where he confirmed that Munchkin Axe Cop will be an Axe Cop game before it is a Munchkin game, meaning that all of the art work will be from Ethan Nicolle himself, not a "Munchkin-ized" version of the characters in the traditional John Kovalic art style. The game has not yet been finished, but is expected to hit store shelves during fall of this year.

By Sean Kleefeld

When I first started this column, I made a distinction between webcomics and newspaper comics on the web. What I didn’t distinguish at the time was the difference between webcomics and digital comics, an oversight that I will now attempt to correct. Since both are provided through and read on electronic devices, the line is a bit murkier and not as obvious for many people.

The difference between digital comics and webcomics is not unlike the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web in that many people confuse the two because of some similarities in the delivery mechanism. The Internet is the global network of computers that are constantly sending information back and forth, while the Web is a subset of that, focusing expressly on the documents designed for being viewed through a browser. Most pirated comics, for example, are not available on the Web, but are downloaded via torrents that are offered via the Internet. The short version is that, if you’re not interacting with a document through a Web browser, it’s not part of the World Wide Web.

Speaking of pirates, let’s take a look at a couple to see where webcomics and digitial comics differ. Zap! is a webcomic by Pascalle Lepas and Chris Layfield. It’s a science fiction story that follows Zap Vexler’s quest to regain (or recreate!) his identity. Though first mate Reona ran afoul of some pirates in Volume Five, and they’ve established a truce to reach their complimentary goals.

To read the comic, you go to their website and call up the page you want to read. Like most webcomics, there are forward and back buttons alongside the pages of art, some commentary from the creators and links to other parts of the site, including news, forums, an FAQ and a store where you can buy some of the original art or print copies of the story. The comic is available to read for free with archives going back to its inception in 2003. Read More...

I don’t know if you guys have heard, but this digital comics thing is a big issue right now. At the forefront of the movement are portals like Comixology and Graphic.ly; but a second movement has begun, as name creators have started putting up their own work for nearly no money at all.

One small success story? Pet Avengers creator Chris Eliopoulos, who put the entirety of his 129-page on sale for $2, and ended up with a hit. To find out more, and whether he thinks this is the wave of the comics future, we chatted with the writer – how else? – digitally:

MTV Geek: You recently put your 129 page graphic novel Misery Loves Sherman available for download digitally for $2. How rich are you now?

Chris Eliopoulos: Not very. It's not really about getting rich. Yes, the money is nice, but this is also about getting my work out there into new hands--people who have never read my work and might be willing to take a chance on something for a couple of bucks. But, I will say, that the first book is a digital version of a print book I did. I made more money in 3 weeks of sales than I made in a year on the printed book.

Geek: Seriously though, what led to this decision? And how has the response been?

CE: I had been thinking about the idea and I heard from a few people who told me not to do this because selling a PDF guarantees pirating and sharing. I'm sure it's happening, but it was happening anyway. Finally Skottie Young went online and bit the bullet and gave it a go. My book had been out a while, so I jumped in as well. The response has been great, not just in sales, but the interest of readers and other creators. It's an interesting experiment and decided to release my second book exclusively digitally. So now I have 2 books available for $2 each.

Geek: For those who don't know the book, what's it about?

CE: Misery Loves Sherman is the comic strip I've done online for almost 3 years. It involves the neurotic Sherman, 2 aliens (Zort and Benny) and the living embodiment of death. It's like a comic strip collection you'd find in bookstores, but cheaper.

Geek: Why this price point for this many pages? Most people would be okay with buying one issue of a comic for $2 - why the whole enchilada?

CE: I felt there were a number of reasons for this specific product. This is a strip where you can view all of the daily strips online for free if you wanted to forward click for hours. The other reason is I see it as a loss-leader. People who take a chance on this book may like what they see and go out and pick up some of my other work whether digitally or printed.

I don't say this price is for everyone, but it works for this book. There's this breaking point you see--like apps. If you go to the Apple site to download an app, you can weigh in your mind if you think it's worth it for the price their asking. Like, if Angry Birds is available for $2, you might say, "Hey, it's $2, I'll give it a try." but if the price were $5, you might pass. My goal was to find that price point where people might give it a shot. Read More...

By Sean Kleefeld

Hopefully, after reading last week’s column, you have a better understand of how webcomic creators are able to earn money, even if they’re putting their comics online for free. Maybe you’ve even followed up by going to some of their sites and purchasing a few items. But maybe you went to their online store looking for something to buy, only to realize that they were only selling printed copies of their comics. And you said to yourself, “Now why in the heck would I want to pay for something that I just read for free?”

One of the first webcomics that really got me excited and has remained my favorite since its inception in 2007 is Tozo, The Public Servant by David O’Connell. Unlike many webcomics, Tozo is not a gag-a-day type of strip, but a serial adventure story that follows a murder investigation (and the surrounding conspiracy) as it is conducted by the title character. Without getting into a full-on review of the strip, let’s just say I like everything from the characters to the linework to the worldbuilding. And that actually gets to the first reason to buy print versions of O’Connell’s comics.

Because I like Tozo, I want to see it continue. I want to see it succeed so that O’Connell receives positive encouragement to produce Tozo and/or more comics like it. I can certainly email him and tell that I like his comic, which is a nice gesture, but sending him my hard-earned money is a stronger statement. It tells him that I like his comic enough that I’m willing to pay for it, even though I could read it for free. It tells him that at least one person out there (me) thinks he’s talented enough to make a living doing this. Read More...

By Sean Kleefeld

Last week, we took a look at some of the reasons why someone might want to create their own webcomic. Financial security was not one of those reasons. While there are some really good examples of people making a living exclusively from their webcomics, that is decidedly not the norm. Often, webcomics are done in addition to a full-time job; many of the creators I've looked at work in artistic fields that have them designing print ads, storyboarding commercials or developing websites. Let's take a look at a specific, not entirely atypical, example.

Cool Jerk is by California resident Paul Horn. Like many artists, he drew a lot in school and did an ongoing comic strip for his college newspaper. (Two ongoing strips, actually!) When he later started working at the Reno Gazette-Journal as a graphic artist, he was tapped with helping to develop a page aimed at a younger demographic. (Bear in mind, this was before the days when everyone knew what the Internet was and newspapers still thought they had a fighting chance to compete with it.) He debuted Cool Jerk in the newspaper, as a paid member of the newspaper staff. Read More...

By Sean Kleefeld

Back in the first half of the 20th century, many artists longed to have a syndicated newspaper strip. That was, for them, the pinnacle of cartooning achievement. Comic strip artists were nationally known and were some of the first creators of intellectual property that sparked real commercial interest. Characters like Krazy Kat, Little Orphan Annie and Shmoo were wild sellers with plenty of commercially available products, which brought in some nice royalties for the creators (even if they didn’t receive everything they should).

The Internet has given a new generation of creators the ideal of “making it” by cartooning, now that the syndicates are no longer able to bar the way for many hopefuls. Plus, webcomic creators don’t have to be as financially successful as their newspaper counterparts since they don’t have to share any money they make with middlemen. Of course, that also means they have to do a lot more marketing and self-promotion unaided.

Many, if not most, webcomic creators start with a small audience. Far too small to completely support the creator financially. So you’ll find a lot of creators hold “regular” jobs so they can actually pay the bills, and it’s not uncommon to see them blog, tweet or even draw cartoons relating back to their work. That their comic is done in addition to a (frequently) full-time job speaks to the dedication they feel towards their endeavor, making their efforts often more personal and heart-felt. Unfortunately, since it’s generally not their main source of income, it’s also what falls to the wayside during their already busy lives.

There are, though, a few folks that are able to make a living at webcomics. Mike Krahulik’s and Jerry Holkins’ Penny Arcade and Jennie Breeden’s The Devil’s Panties for examples. While they tend not to discuss their financials in too much detail, they’re usually quick to admit that their comics weren’t an overnight success and took years of supporting themselves with other jobs. But even then, as Breeden pointed back in 2006, financial independence does not necessarily equal rich: “...my bank acount [sic] has been increasing so I guess I’m doing well. Still eating Ramen mind you, but I can pay rent and fill up my tank.” Read More...

By Sean Kleefeld

So last week, after you read my column, you went out and asked your friends about which webcomics they read, right? You’ve looked up some of them and decided that some of these are pretty good. Now what? I mean, you don’t have them delivered to your doorstep every morning like a newspaper and many of them don’t have printed collections available at bookstores, so how are you supposed to continue reading them day after day?

The first, and most obvious, solution is to simply bookmark the main page of the site with your browser and manually return to it every day. It could be part of a morning ritual: sit down at the computer with your coffee and hit all the sites you’ve bookmarked, one at a time. There are a few challenges with that approach, however. First is that you need to remember to do that. Eventually, it could become habit enough that clicking through all your favorites is a rote exercise, but that will take some time to learn that behavior. The second issue is that you have to use the same browser on the same computer all the time. If you’re borrowing a friend’s laptop or are at the library, your bookmarks won’t be available to you.

While those first two issues are at least somewhat under your control, this third one isn’t. The comic might not be updated daily. Most webcomic creators do not earn their living off their comics and have to squeeze in time to write, draw, upload and publicize their work after they’ve already put in an eight or ten hour day doing something unrelated to comics. So it’s not uncommon for them to keep their comics on an alternate schedule. Maybe they only have new comics every Monday, Wednesday and Friday (e.g. The Adventures of Dr. McNinja). Maybe only Sunday (e.g. Tozo, the Public Servant). Perhaps they don’t maintain a regular schedule at all, and only put comics out when they have a chance, sometimes going months between updates (e.g. Dresden Codak)! Read More...

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