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You Can Put Lipstick on a Webcomic, But...

INTERVIEWS
CBR talks with Danielle Corsetto, the creator of the damn-funny Girls With Slingshots.

REVIEWS
I wrote a recent review of Faith Erin Hicks' graphic novel Zombies Calling and completely missed some visual storytelling involved in the "infection" and some other bits about the main characters.  Over at the SLG blog, editor Jennifer deGuzman shows me the light!

GIMME THE GIMMICK!
For all I know this will be a really good webcomic.  After all it's been "more than ten years in development.".  But the press release is stressing that the new comic from Kelly J. Compeau, The Black Tower, is "an ad-supported interactive webcomic series targeted at environmentally conscious teens and adults."  Oh it gets better.  Let me just snip from the press release:

What's unique about this project is the interactive element, a first in the comics industry. Every issue of "The Black Tower" will be made available online...  with clickable links to product placement advertisers, music videos and YouTube/MySpacetv shorts (live-action extensions of the comic book), Wikipedia pages and internal Black Tower factoid/who's-who webpages, to help new readers get up-to-speed on what's going on. There will also be links to fully functional faux websites seen being accessed by characters in the webcomic, and blogs written "in character", with comments posted by devoted fans who choose to play along with the charade. All readers have to do to access these special features (Easter eggs) is roll their mouse over the panel featuring the "Interactive Icon" (the little black & white X in the bottom corner of the pic) and they'll be taken to a website that may feature the product shown in that panel, or it may take them to a music video for the band featured in that panel, or a character's MySpace page etc. If the comics do exceptionally well over the first two of its expected six-year run, Compeau hopes to expand "The Black Tower" empire by launching a video game companion, paperback novels, action figures, board games, trading cards, toy props & weapons, posters, calendars, and a clothing & jewelry line, among other things.

In all seriousness, this could be a lot of fun but oy that press release is not helping...

 

Re: You Can Put Lipstick on a Webcomic, But...

As far as I know, there hasn't been another webcomic to do all of those things, but many of them have been done by some. I know myspace pages and blogs for characters has become quite common (Achewood characters have blogs, I know, and the characters of Anders Loves Maria have Facebook accounts). I'm not sure about direct links to related content within the comic (as opposed to within associated blog posts). While trying to avoid sounding like a jerk with the self-referencing, my own comic, Synchronism, (currently down due while preparing for a relaunch) had (and will have again) clickable elements within the comic that brought up other images, usually either a "zoom" of something in the background (such as newspapers or computer screens) or a flashback to something the character was remembering (which I realize isn't exactly what you're doing, but it's a similar vein, I think). I Am a Rocket Builder (which has gone through several formats) has also been big on exploratory and interactive elements.
 

I'll admit that from the sounds of it, you've got the biggest collection of these types of elements into a single story, though. I could see this being either a good or bad thing, honestly, but I won't pass judgment until the story is out (unless it already is? I didn't see a link or anything in the press release).

 

But I must say, you've won me over on the advertisement side. I was initially reacting with a picture in my head of the comic changing direction with any change in promotion. But I completely respect that you're being so selective about it. I'll admit that in a world of overexposure to ads/promotion/etc., I kind of have gut reaction to dislike product placement and similar advertising schemes (despite being a graphic designer myself!). But hey, at least you're sticking to your own morals with it, which puts you ahead of a lot of other advertising avenues, in my opinion. (even if I do still view it more as a necessary evil ;) )

Re: You Can Put Lipstick on a Webcomic, But...

I've been engaging people in lively chats online for well over a decade, and I have never (and will never) engage in flame wars or vicious personal attacks. I think I'm a good person, with a loving heart and a compassionate soul. The thought of my words hurting someone on a personal level makes me sick to my stomach, Katie. So, even though you don't seem all that thrilled with the concept behind The Black Tower, I would never lash out at you. You made some fair statements and observations, some good questions, too, which I shall now answer to the best of my ability.

What I meant by the project being the first fully interactive experience is, The Black Tower is the first that will make it possible for readers to click on pages in the webcomic and be taken to websites featuring music videos of the band you just saw in the webcomic, or their official websites where you can buy their music. Real actors (some of them major celebrities) will play the parts of the characters you see in the pages of the webcomic, and when you click on certain pages, the panel you just read will continue on as a dramatic scene being played out by those actors, in a YouTube video. Clicking on links embedded into the pages of the webcomic will launch games, contests, quizzes, Wikipedia pages, MySpace pages and blogs for the characters you see in the webcomic, etc. If there's another webcomic out there doing this kind of thing, please tell me, because I'm still trying to figure out how to do all of this, and if someone's already done it, I want to learn from their example -- and their mistakes.

I'm very picky about product placement sponsors. While many of them will have a strong environmental/green aspect to them (i.e. hydrogen car manufacturers, health & spiritual wellness product manufacturers), some others won't. But I have so far refused product placement offers from sex toy manufacturers, drug-laced energy drinks targeted at teens, sporting goods companies that stress their guns, hunting & fishing departments...stuff like that. I won't compromise my integrity or the integrity of this project just to score any advertiser willing to pay the bills. I'd rather the project die a noble death on principles than continue on as an outlet for that kind of crap. The idea behind the entire project is that I want people from all over the world to come together, to share their thoughts and ideas, share their stories about how they're making the world a better place, cleaner, safer for our children, how they're easing the suffering of others and educating people to become thriving, fully engaged members of their community. A community that respects their environment and the animals we share our fragile world with.

If you have anymore questions, go for it. I enjoy engaging people in intelligent and enlightened debate. :-)

KJC

Re: You Can Put Lipstick on a Webcomic, But...

Heh, I must admit, when I saw that you replied, I was immediately afraid I'd have to back out of a flame war (this is the Internet afterall ;) ), so thank you for not taking offence to my comments :)

As xerxes said, it could be a great story.  I can't dismiss that side of it without having read it.  And if it is, I don't doubt that it will be successful.  Really, the only two things that bug  me are the product placements and the wording of that press release that made it sound like interactivity and online "extras" were something that had never been done before.

Though I'm also curious to find out, are you seeking out advertisers for the product placement based on things you want to promote and products that you like/are interested in?  Or are you just accepting anything that can pay the asking price?  It says it's aimed at the environmentally conscious.  What if, say, a corporation that, while trying to promote a green image, is infamous for being the opposite comes forward as an advertiser?  I realize that's getting into an ethical issue, but I could respect an advertising-driven comic that stuck only to advertisers that the creator(s) were in favor of much more than one that would twist the story based on whoever payed the fee.

Re: You Can Put Lipstick on a Webcomic, But...

Not everyone is going to like the concept behind The Black Tower, and I'm totally OK with that. Over 1,000 people have read the first issue up to this point, and I've only found 3 critical reviews online, so far, including yours, Katie. Every creative project has fans and detractors. I can't please everybody, but if the emails I've been getting over the past few weeks are any indication, so long as I get product placement sponsors to support the project, it will most definitely become a major success.

KJC

 

Re: You Can Put Lipstick on a Webcomic, But...

Interactivity... a first in the in the comics industry?  Maybe if this is time travelling comic from 1998 or so.  The thing makes it sound like just the inclusion of a cast page is innovation!

Though I'll give them that it may be the first one to use interactivity to break through the "floor" (one step beyond breaking down the 4th wall?) to show us that the characters are just puppets pushing products in a big old ad.

Do companies always blatantly announce product placement and describe their interactive stories as "a charade"?  I've always thought the former was more of a necessary (and ideally subtle) evil that producers wouldn't exactly go about showing off.

I've nothing strongly against advertisements, if they're necessary, they're necessary. But letting it dictate the content and then throwing it in our face like it's innovation?  meh.

I'm all for interactivity, easter eggs, and experimentation, of course, but this is a little rediculous.