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Like The Undead, It Keeps Coming Back: Creature-Features.com

When the Creature-Features site was originally conceived (under the name CreatureFeatureComics.com), it was meant to be a webcomics subscription site of a horror or sci-fi bent about, well, creatures – something like Modern Tales, except with a theme. The site was going to launch over the summer of 2003.

In the months of twists, turns, delays, and personnel changes that the site has been through since its conception, it's no big shock the site has evolved into something almost – but not quite – completely different. The horror theme is the same, but the philosophies of updating, subscriptions, and content have all seen major revisions.

The current editor and owner of the site, Mike Kelleher, has a great deal of enthusiasm for what Creature-Features.com has become.

"I decided that I could take the basic concept (a web-based comic subscription service) and expand it into a multi-media site containing comics, animations, video games, and entertainment news. Everything on the site will be related in some way to the genres of horror and science fiction," says Kelleher. "All the online content will be free to view, including the archives, and there will be a bi-monthly digital magazine on disc for subscribers. Other revenue will come from banner ads."

Kelleher is a freelance illustrator specializing in digital graphics. His recent endeavors include work as a colorist for print comics (Banzai Girl from Sirius Entertainment and for Lady Death for Chaos Comics); currently, he's working on Iron Empires for Dark Horse Comics. He began his comics career with a self-published comic called Legend Killer in 1991. He also does graphic design for video games, including "Barsim" from Upper Hand software and "Casino Coach" from Centron Software.

As Kelleher's previous publishing experience suggests, he likes the kind of comics you can carry with you. "I prefer paper-based comics simply because it is tangible. I love holding that book in my hand. I like the portability of comics. I think that is one of the major reasons that comics as we know them will never be profitable on the web. In order for web based comics to make money, they need to add sound and/or motion. Of course, then it is no longer a comic, it is an animation."

Perhaps this view is part of what drove Kelleher to make a major shift in the format of Creature-Features.

The site will feature a variety of content, including articles, news, comics, animations, regular columns, video games, galleries, "and many other categories" declares Kelleher. Each issue will apparently feature a theme to which a large amount of content will be devoted.

Kelleher couldn't provide a complete list of contributors. "At the moment, the only people I can confirm are myself, Barb Lien-Cooper, and Len Mihalovich, who helps with the technical end of the business," he says. "We are currently in talks with other creators and hope to have a list of contributors very soon."

The theme for the Halloween launch will be the classic horror film Night of the Living Dead, a theme which was chosen for several reasons. "First and foremost, it is arguably one of the best horror films ever made. I have always been a huge fan of that film and I believe it will attract a lot of attention to the site's launch," Kelleher says, adding also that the film's history is rich enough to provide plenty of interesting tales. "From its humble, independent beginnings, to the legal problems that threw the film into public domain, Night of The Living Dead offers a lot of great stories beyond the film itself."

"Also," Kelleher states, "Dead Dog Comics is currently producing a new Night of The Living Dead comic series, which gives us even more theme-related content to add to the first issue. It is our plan to have interviews with the creators as well as news items and previews."

"We have a number of articles scheduled that deal with the history of the movie, including a wonderful article written by Barb Lien-Cooper," says Kelleher. He also adds that one of the site's main features will be an animated version of the horror news: "Viewers will have the option of watching an animated news report as opposed to reading the content." According to Kelleher, Creature-Features is also in negotiation to include a full-length classic horror or sci-fi movie with every issue of the CD-ROM digital magazine.

The CD-ROM will be configured to work in Internet Explorer or Netscape, and some of the features will require Flash or QuickTime to run.

When asked if the site would be accepting credit cards, PayPal or checks by mail, Kelleher replies with a grin, "all of the above."

Working up to the Creature-Features launch has been smooth sailing, says Kelleher: "Fortunately, we have run into no major problems while preparing Creature-Features.com," he enthused, "If I had to complain about anything, it would be that there are only 24 hours in a day."

The site's original owner and editor, Chad Welch, was not so fortunate.

"I never really had time to come up with a solid vision for CreatureFeatureComics, because literally two days after I registered the domain name, there was a story on ComixPedia about us. So, from that point on, I was rushed by the creators, by Administrative staff, by literally everyone involved into throwing something up there. I was never confident in anything that I did with CFC. Due to time constraints it became Modern Tales with Creature and horror comics... and I knew that wasn't what I wanted.

"As the site wore on, my displeasure [with] where it was going was starting to seep through my mask. Feuding between key creators, adversity from others, and a number of small but taxing incidences woobied into the site's scope."

All this craziness ultimately provoked Welch to pass the site on, and move on to a different project – a company that specializes in interactive online storytelling. Says Welch about his decision to move on: "After so much feuding between creators, being told that I was incompetent [when it came to] managing the site, and viewing the site like Dr. Frankenstein viewed his creation...I felt that perhaps the site could have been run better by someone else."

That someone else was Richard Van Stone, who wound up passing the site on, as well, in early August. Some of the original comic creators seem to feel the main problems with the site were unfortunate turns of luck and perhaps disorganization. A few of them even decided they no longer wanted to be involved with the project.

Roy Boney was one of the first to pull his work from the site. Co-creator of Deadies (with ComixPedia editor Matt Shepherd), Boney had this to say about what prompted him to pull the strip: "[It was] Nothing personal against the people in charge, past or present, but there seemed [to be] too little organization with the creation of the site. We would go for a while without any information as to how the system would work or even when start date was. Then management duties were passed to someone else, but by then, I wasn't too confident about the endeavor." He added, "But to be fair, part of the problem was that some other creators were not getting their material ready quick enough. So, simply put, it was a big lack of organization."

However, Boney bears no ill will towards anyone over the rift or the disorganization that led up to it. "At any rate, I wish them very well. I've heard it's all under new management now. I'll definitely check it out when Creature Features launches."

When asked how he feels about the development of his creation on the eve of its new launch, Chad Welch admits to not being excited: "I didn't really keep up with Creature Feature Comics after I handed the reins to Richard Van Stone. It was kinda like not wanting to watch how the villagers would stomp, burn and torture my creation, no matter how grotesque it was. I'm sad for the state it is in now, but to me, Creature Feature Comics is already dead."

Certainly, the site has mutated since its conception. However, many comic creators will still be contributing to the site, despite the problems it encountered on the road to the October 31 launch, and the changes in the overall format.

Barb Lien-Cooper is a comic writer who's done a variety of writing work, including being a regular contributor for Sequential Tart. Her latest writing work in comics is for GraphicSmash's Gun Street Girl, alongside artist Ryan Howe. In addition to some stand-alone comic work for Creature-Features, Kelleher has mentioned that she may be churning out a regular column on women in film making. According to Lien-Cooper, however, GSG is where she's concentrating most of her energies at the moment.

As of now, her comic contribution to Creature-Features is work she's already completed. "I'd written some stand-alone horror stories that wouldn't have fit in at any other web site, as most of the other web sites out there focus on series rather than stand alone works," says Lien-Cooper. "Since CF has changed its focus from being a webcomic site to being a webcomic site that's also going to be a horror fanzine, I'm also going to write articles about the horror genre for it. While Sequential Tart is my main focus in webcomics journalism, its focus is comic books and geek culture. As a life-long horror fan, it's nice to have a site where I can also write about the horror genre."

Like Mike Kelleher, Lien-Cooper has had very few problems putting her own work together leading up to the launch. "My stories were mostly written and illustrated before I got involved with CF, so really I just had to work with artists – particularly Matt Phillips, who has been gracious enough to illustrate some of my work – to make sure the site had completed, illustrated comics."

However, she does add that with most webcomics sites, the primary frustrations center around making sure both the editors and creators are fully on-board and prepared to do what they have to do to make the site run. "CF had an editor turnover a few times, which was frustrating to many of the creators. So, having Mike Kelleher onboard as Editor-in-Chief helps a lot, as he seems very determined to make this publication work."

Another creator, The Adventures of Captain Mooki's Teague Tysseling, actually sees the change in Creature-Features' format as advantageous, particularly in terms of his artwork.

"Actually, I'm in the process of rewriting the first story to read better as one whole issue as it will end up being read rather than running one page each week, had Creature Features continued as a regular comics subscription site." Tysseling says. "This frees me up for a more comfortable pacing for what I wanted to convey."

And Tysseling's contribution? The New Adventures of Captain Mooki – sci-fi and parody, drawn from the traditions of the great B-Movies.

"It's all the same old comedy Sci-fi goodness folks have come to expect from me. The change is in the process. Now I'm working on each story as a quality stand-alone product. Art worth printing when I'm ready for that, writing with a full beginning/middle/end in mind and allowing the reader to jump into each episode without having to know the whole history of the characters. No more writing by the seat of my pants."

The main thing that has frustrated Tysseling has been the multiple launch-date push-backs, and how they affected his ability to release his work: "Well, all the delaying of the launch itself was kind of disheartening. I've just felt less and less comfortable calling myself a cartoonist when I wasn't putting anything new out."

[editor's note: at the time of this writing, Tysseling has since removed Capt. Mooki from the Creature Features project. He explains that he will still contribute a one-shot zombie comic for the first issue, and depending on the response, he may submit more one-shot projects.

When asked his reasons for leaving, Tysseling points out that the original promised shared profit percentage for contributors was dropped considerably when the site switched focus from webcomics-only to a horror fan site. Likewise, as this change in format also takes the attention away from the webcomics, Tysseling feels that he'd be better off on his own in terms of promoting his webcomic: "The new site plan doesn't give the spotlight to the comics as much, so I don't think it'd be the best place for my flagship comic series to get much recognition."]

As for Kelleher, he has reasons of his own to be excited about the launch. He's been into horror and sci-fi in all its forms since he was a kid. "I was a huge fan of the early 70s Marvel and DC horror comics," he said. "As I grew older, I expanded that love to horror movies. I enjoyed the cheesy horror/sci-fi films of the 50s. The sincereness [sic] of those god-awful movies appealed to me. Oddly, I don't enjoy intentionally cheesy horror (with the exception of anything Bruce Campbell is in). I still love reading old copies of EC comics and a lot of the old Marvel/Atlas horror of the 50s."

Despite the shift in format, Creature-Features will still have plenty of comic content. Though it might have been more exciting for some Comixpedia readers if Creature-Features had maintained its original focus, the new, expanded site will surely excite those who like horror as much as they like comics.