After reading Susana’s confession about how she came to comics, I feel like I should have a confession of my own. Here it is: I think I’m addicted to serial fiction. Not series fiction—those ten or twelve or how-ever-long-Game of Thrones-will-be-when-GRRM-is-finished—although I love those, too. I mean serial fiction, the type of fiction you can take in at bite-sized. The kind of fiction you get in webcomics, which have been doing it brilliantly for years, stringing along a story one day at a time and keeping the readers hooked with little claws of awesomeness dug into our brains. The kind of fiction that’s easy for reading online or reading on your phone.
The kind of fiction that’s becoming ever so much more popular for prose stories these days, as well as webcomics and episodic television series. I keep an ongoing updated overview of “The Best Serial Fiction You Should Be Reading” where I write over at Den of Geek. But while I’m waxing eloquent over the prose tales I’m loving to read, and listen to when the audio versions are available, I haven’t gotten into something I’ve been considering for awhile: how much serial prose fiction is like the webcomics experience—and how much it isn’t.
If you check out the philosophy espoused by Serial Box Publishing, which produces most of the serials I’m reading right now, you’ll see that the inspiration behind these serials is the television writing process. Each serial has a team of writers who storyboard, work out the main thrust of the story’s season, and take the head writing assignments for different episodes. The result is that the serials feel like television, except with all the action going on inside your head. The pacing is very much what you’d expect of an hour-long TV drama (or, in the case of Whitehall, a bit more than an hour, especially in audio, which makes them feel a bit like a PBS-run British mini-series; it’s appropriate for that story).
But, of course, reading prose has very little else in common with television. As Susana pointed out in discussing the difference between novels and comics, with prose fiction, all of the world and character appearance come from the reader, and no two versions of that world are going to be the same, because of the different details readers will focus on, and because of their own frame of references. While I’ve got a cast list to pitch for Bookburners if that ever got optioned for a television series, my cast list is probably quite different from the one the writers would create themselves! (I’d love to find out, though…) More than that, there’s no need for a special effects budget in prose, because the imagination of the reader has a pretty unlimited budget.
So why does that have me thinking about webcomics? I’ve always thought that comics were sort of a middle ground medium. When I first started writing comics, I took a screen writing course to get a better idea of how to create a script. The big difference between film and comics, in my opinion, is that the action in a film is continual. The action in a comic happens between the panels. The action in prose can happen anywhere, but a prose writer has a cheat: the prose writer can tell you what’s going on in the heads of the characters. The action can be internal. Not so with comics! The art has to show you what’s going on in that character development. So if serial fiction and television are similar storytelling experiences, the webcomics, with the art-prose hybrid, could be the perfect middle medium between them.
Generally, though, webcomics are a very different reading experience, unless you’re binge reading. If you haven’t ever read a page of Schlock Mercenary, for example, (and if you haven’t, where have you been?) you could be reading online for hours on end, devouring storyline after storyline. The volume arcs in a long-running webcomic like Schlock do feel a lot like a television season.
But if you’re all caught up, a webcomic gives you a tiny, bite-sized morsel of story every day, every other day, or even once a week. The best of them are able to make that small bite enough to keep your interest, to keep you wondering what will happen in the next post. In an age of binge watching, that ability to sustain a story without the ability to binge read it is an impressive skill, and I admire the webcomics creators who can maintain the kind of loyal readership that so many inspire.
Webcomics and serials both draw on earlier, similar examples. Webcomics come out of a tradition of newspaper comics like Prince Valiant and Spiderman that would give readers four panels a day of an ongoing tale. I always wondered how those readers would manage if they ever missed a day of the paper! Serial prose has been around since Charles Dickens and his peers, though the recent resurgence is closer in many ways to television (or TV movies: some of the bite-sized books are full stories in a single reading). And while they don’t share many similarities in how readers experience them, both webcomics and the modern prose serials are, when done well, masters of the art of keeping their readers coming back for more. That’s a skill that’s valuable for any writer!
If you asked me, I wouldn’t probably say I was a hardcore fan of comic strips or comic books…but I was. No, I wasn’t ashamed of my hobby, I just had the wrong assumption that only the people who read those big famous names like “Superman”, “Spiderman” or “X-Men (the ones I saw as animated cartoons every weekend on the clock!) were worthy of being called “comic book fans”. Only now I hear how ridiculous this sounds.
Although I did not read the mainstream superheroes or indie obscure comic books, I started by devouring one series: “Turma de Mônica” by Brazilian cartoonist Maurício de Sousa. I loved those simple stories about a small group of kids: Mônica with her anger management issues, Cebolinha always trying to take her iconic blue bunny away and failing miserably, Cascão with his fear from water, Magali eating a watermelon with two bites and all the pastries she could, and of course the other characters that came in comics from the same author. Penadinho, a nice ghost not too different from Casper, Bidu the intelligent and slightly sarcastic dog or Chico Bento from the inner state area who was written with the distinct Caipira accent – which means “bush cutter” accent.
“Mônica” reading “Turma da Mônica” – It’s inception!
Yes, you get it: I was deep in Brazilian kids’ lingo, knowing what their words meant back in Portuguese from Portugal – it might seem all the same too you, but believe me, there’s quite a difference. Think American vs British English.
I then started reading the strips launched online, so I guess one might say that was the first time I dwelled the webcomics world as well.
I also read (even though I wasn’t mad about them) the Disney Adventures: pure Portuguese, pure classical Disney characters from Mickey to Donald Duck, and, of course, Scrooge McDuck and the quests of his three grandnephews Huey, Dewey and Louie.
“Scrooge McDuck” and his famous pile of money.
After a while I upgraded and started reading “Garfield” by Jim Davis . After tons of books about the conundrums of the fatty cat and lasagna in landscape format, square format, A6 format…the stories all started to sound pretty much the same.
The different sizes of “Garfield”.
So it was time to read about the universal questioning “Mafalda” written and drawn by the Argentinean cartoonist Quino. The comic strips count with the scathing tone of a precocious 6-year-old girl talking to her parents and her friends about Global problems and, why not, the big issue of having to eat soup.
The dilemmas of “Mafalda”.
It was only when I got to college and made new friends that I truly saw another side of the comic book universe. “V for Vendetta”, “Cat Woman”, Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman”: a world of adaptations and expansions of TV and film sagas as well as original stories, in such a more dynamic way than a novel. I discovered the shops and little bit of the collector’s culture. You know? The one where each issue is carefully stored in a specially-for-this-purpose-only plastic folder? No sweaty fingers allowed in the vicinity.
And when I got into the Outland Entertainment team THEN it all expanded multiple times. The work our artists had already done, the works (some still under wraps I’m afraid) we were going to be a part of and be involved in their development. The webcomics, the awesome gripping, eccentric, fantastic characters. And, when attending a book fair I’d be more open to hear talking about comics and you know what? I love them! It’s an amazingly dynamic and expressive format for narratives.
“Nightfell” by Nicolás Giacondino and Jeremy Tolbert.
“Aegisteel” by Mat Nastos and Jeremy Mohler.
So please, do join me in this new path of discovery. I’ll be pouring my “Newbie” views on the comic book Universe right here every fortnight.
How about you? What was the first comic strip/book you read? Is it still your favorite?
Let us know in the comments below or via our social media channels (Twitter or Facebook).
P.S.: Featured image from this page.
Gabe Schmidt love for Greek gods and science-fiction from an early age may have propelled this talented author into his writing path. Let’s find out a bit more of his history.
Where did you come up with the concept for Mars2577?
10 years ago, I was traveling on a trip with my parents to visit my older sister in Washington, D.C. It grew off of the fact that there’s a place on Mars called Mount Olympus, and I began to think of a sci-fi setting where Greek gods are simply rulers over different areas of life. On the long drive, I wrote down in my notebook the different roles that could be played by Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, and Hera. While I liked the setting idea, when I thought of stories, I wanted them to be about the heroes of Greek mythology living in this world created by the gods.
Did you always envision it as a webcomic?
Definitely not. It started off as a regular book. Back then, there were only three other people who read any of it. One of them, Shamus, suggested it as a comic book instead. He hooked me up with an artist he knew, but the artist was not consistent enough to get any work done beyond the slightest glimpse of concept arts. It was for the best anyway; the story has evolved a lot since then, in both my writing ability and the plot itself. I did keep my eyes open for other ways to tell the story, though, and when the chance to work with Outland Entertainment presented itself, I leapt at the opportunity.
There’s a whole debate around comics becoming digital. Do you think webcomics are the gateway for this new digital world?
I am honestly not familiar with the debate around digital comics. However, I have been reading webcomics for a very long time. While the first ones I read were basically daily jokes (Penny Arcade, PVP), some of them were long and developed plots with plenty of jokes so it was easy to transition from the normal webcomic group (Order of the Stick is my favorite of these, Goblins is also good). While the former had the feel of newspaper comics (with material you would never find in so public a forum), the latter felt more like normal comic books that knew how to crack a joke. I think it is inevitable that digital comics are a core part of the comic community, whether or not anyone decides to debate it along the way.
Do you find yourself more driven towards a specific genre? Which one?
Science Fiction has always been my absolute favorite, in both writing and reading, but I try to diversify my interests as much as I can. Vonnegut has had a lot to do with my love of science fiction, and I was reading a lot of his works when I first started getting back in to writing in high school. The ability to use science fiction as a vehicle to discuss any topic you want without the restraints of modern-day technology or world situations is something I’ve always found liberating.
What was the first thing you ever wrote?
When I was in elementary school, there was a standardized writing essay for the state or the federal standards. Don’t remember all of the details for sure, but I remember the topic was “What I Did Over Summer”. I asked the teacher if it had to be real or if it could be fake, and she said it shouldn’t matter. I wrote about how I was abducted by aliens and kept in some alien zoo. (This may explain my later attachment to Vonnegut, as something similar happens in Slaughterhouse Five.) The essays were sent away and processed by someone or some committee I’ve never met, and I received a low grade, closer to a C or C- in normal standards. The negative reinforcement discouraged me from writing for years, until I got in to high school, when I restarted my old passion. Now, of course, I realize that negative criticism is essential for becoming a better writer; when someone reads my work, I’d always rather hear what they didn’t like than just a general, “It was good!” with no further explanation.
What was the first book you ever read (or was read to you)?
I’m sure the very first book ever read to me was something along the lines of Dr. Seuss, and I know Goosebumps was some of my early reading. However, the first book that I specifically remember reading was Jurassic Park, after seeing the movie many times in theaters, when I was eight. I didn’t understand a lot of the scientific mumbo-jumbo, but it put me on the path to pursue that understanding, and it also gave me a good introduction to science fiction.
And comics: which were your favorite ones?
I didn’t actually start reading comics by issue until I was 16, and I’ve since gone back to reading comics by the trade instead. My top five trades, in no particular order, are Green Arrow: Archer’s Quest, Maus, Saga Vol. 1, Criminal Vol. 1 and 2, and Habibi. As far as superhero comics, in addition to Green Arrow, my favorites were the Punisher MAX series and Marvel’s 1602.
Nowadays, what can we find you reading?
My four favorite authors are Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and I inevitably go back to reading a book by one of these four between other books. Recently I’ve been trying to diversify my reading list across different subjects, from The Elegant Universe to Heart of Darkness, from The Journey to the West to Snow Crash.
Are you a person of idols?
I am. I love the gods of mythology, the heroes of stories, and the protagonists of real life. I have a tattoo of Anansi, a god of storytelling and trickery, the very type of idol that sings to my soul.
Who were your childhood heroes?
Definitely Batman, from Batman: Animated Series, and Joker, from the same. Han Solo of Star Wars and Jack Burton of Big Trouble in Little China.Beast from X-Men and Donatello from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (There’s a chance I was always destined to be a nerd.)
And today? Who do you look up to?
It may be generic, but my parents. My dad is the embodiment of a hard worker, and he would do absolutely anything for his family. My mom was one of the first strong women (of many) that I’ve known, and helped establish that from the beginning of my life, so I’ve never struggled to write female characters with depth who are more than just a Damsel in Distress. (Or, at least if they start that way, they evolve out of that state.) My sister, Rachel Schmidt, is also on the list, as she is a successful artist out of Washington, D.C., proof that if you work hard and have an amazing amount of talent, you can go far in the creative world.
What made you enter the comic universe of storytelling?
I practically grew up out of my local comic book shop. While I didn’t start my own pull list until I was 16, all of my other hobbies (card games, miniature games, roleplaying games) were played at Gatekeeper Hobbies from the age of 10 on up. I wasn’t the first one to think of putting Mars 2577 in a comic form, but I feel like the medium is both natural for the material as well as something I had been familiar with for years.
Of all the projects you’ve worked on, is there one that stands out from rest? Why?
Mars 2577 is my first big project to get published, so it will always have a special place in my heart. Hopefully other projects of mine will show up before too long, but we’ll just have to see.
And now a peek into the Future. Can you tell us what project(s) are you most looking forward to?
I always end up working on more than just one project at a time, but there is one I’m trying to channel most of my writing energy in to. The project that I am focusing on writing the most right now is called Shattered Worldsoul. It is a post-apocalyptic novel revolving around eight different characters, in a town being harassed and eventually attacked by bandits. It started as two linked short stories. The first tells the story of a man waking up in the back of a van, not remembering anything of his life from before that moment, and immediately falling in love with the woman driving the van. The second tells the story of the woman, who had lived a hard life, and who met the man when he was in love with a different woman half the world away. When he was having surgery that would cure his amnesia at the cost of triggering it one final time, she broke in and burnt all of his notebooks about the woman he originally loved, so she would be the world for him. From there it’s evolved a whole cast of characters and outlines for 66 chapters (although significantly less than that is written so far). Hopefully, when that’s finished, readers familiar with Mars 2577 will have another fun setting from me to read.
Thanks Gabe for letting us get a glimpse of your creative world!
Press Release: Outland Entertainment launches its own line of webcomics
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SUMMARY: Outland Entertainment launches its own line of webcomics with five titles.
TOPEKA, KANSAS, FEBRUARY 24, 2015 — Outland Entertainment is proud to announce the launch of its new line of webcomics. The comics will update at least one page per week in black and white on their websites.
“I’ve felt for a long time that webcomics are the new frontier of comics and sequential storytelling and I’m extremely excited about the line of works we’ve developed”, says Outland Entertainment’s Jeremy Mohler.
Ithaca [created and written by Emily Hall, illustrated by Dean Kotz and Jeremy Mohler] and Mars2577 [created and written by Gabe Schmidt, illustrated by Nicolas Giacondino] are available as of today, while other projects will be launched during the following weeks:
Remnants [created, written and illustrated by Alec Morgan] – March 2nd;
Nightfell [created and written by Jeremiah Tolbert, illustrated by Nicolas Giacondino and Jeremy Mohler] – March 9th;
N0.1R [created by Nicolas Giacondino and Scott Colby. writen by Scott Colby & illustrated by Nicolas Giacondino] – March 23rd.
“Ithaca is an homage to the Midwest. There’s no better way to discover the strange beauty of a place than to go on a journey through it. Artist Dean Kotz perfectly captured the gritty, moody atmosphere I was going for”, says Emily Hall, creator of the modern, Tarantino-inspired retelling of The Odyssey, Ithaca.
“Remnants is a project very near and dear to me. It’s the first story I ever wrote myself and the first comic I produced entirely on my own (with a little help with the lettering from Owen Staley). I hope other people will enjoy reading this first issue as much as I did producing it! (Hopefully it won’t take them as long!)”, Alec Morgan tells us .
“For Nightfell, we began with a basic premise: what if the undead were the good guys? With that simple question, the world of Nightfell was born — and there, nothing is quite what it seems at first. The artwork on the page may be black and white, but the moral tones of Nightfell’s characters are more varied than that,” states Nightfell creator, Jeremiah Tolbert, a story that challenges the preconceived meanings of light versus darkness.
Gabe Schmidt mentions, “As someone who has been a fan of webcomics for years and graphic novels for far longer, I am excited at this opportunity to be involved in the melding of the two.”
And Scott Colby adds “N0.1R is an old school whodunnit starring a cast of really cool robots. Artist Nic Giacondino does an amazing job bringing both the characters and the setting to life.”
For more details, visit outlandentertainment.com or the individual pages of each webcomic [linked above].