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Creating Clickwheel

What's your background?

WILLIAM SIMONS: My background is somewhat mixed. I attended art college in London, before re-training as an art therapist. Unfortunately, art therapy has moved away from its roots and is now dominated by psychoanalysis, in which I have no interest at all. So I quit and went back to making pictures.

T. CAMPBELL: William casually forgets to mention that he created a successful nonprofit enterprise in the field of art therapy before that.

When did you first come up with the idea of Clickwheel?

WILLIAM SIMONS: I can't honestly remember. Like a lot of ideas, it formed gradually over a period of time, mostly while I was shaving. I think, too, that I enjoy a challenge and Clickwheel has certainly lived up to the mark.

Confession time: I don't have an iPod. What sort of restrictions on format do you have on downloading to an iPod, for the webcartoonist who might be interested in making his comic podcast-accessable?

T. CAMPBELL: The default we're using is the iPod Photo's dimensions: 220x176. The iPod Video goes up to 320x240 and the iPod Nano goes down to 176x132. In any case, small enough that most people have to cut their strips into individual panels or small clusters.

But the potential panel-count is greatly increased. On the screen, you usually have to scroll after six or eight panels or so. On the iPod, going through twenty frames or more is insanely quick and easy. I think of this as a third-dimensional expansion.

Demian 5 is experimenting with slicing his larger image into a series of smaller images that, on the iPod, would make rolling through the clickwheel look like scrolling around the entire image, in line with Scott McCloud's idea of "the screen as a window." Joe England is tinkering with putting his images sideways, which makes a lot of sense to me. A computer monitor, a newspaper page and even a comic book don't turn sideways all that easily, but a handheld? Perfect.

WILLIAM SIMONS: Incidentally, we have to remember that the iPod is umbilically attached to the iTunes Music Store, so to invoke one is nearly always to invoke the other - a fact that is sometimes lost on journalists, who are much given to writing about the iPod as if it was the only happening thing around. Forget it! The real star of the show is not the iPod, but the iTMS. Sure, the iPod is the icon that fronts the Store, but it's iTunes that'll have the more lasting effect, particularly when it comes to how we think and talk about the Web.

So the real challenge is not the iPod's diminutive screen, but the extent to which we can adapt our thinking to the changing role of the Web in the years ahead. If we can, I'm in no doubt as to the opportunities.

T. CAMPBELL: Couldn't have said it better. One of my long-term goals, not only in Clickwheel but in life.

I know you currently are charging nothing, but in months to come you will be charging a subscription fee for extra-special "premium" content. Anything you can tell us about who you've lined up, or what sort of feature, we might expect to see for "premium" content?

T. CAMPBELL: I'll take this one. After a few years selling subscriptions, Joey Manley and I've come to the same conclusion: they work on a fan-based economy, and that's only sustainable if you're creating new fans. So the work you'll see in Clickwheel Premium will aim for fans of the service and fans of the comics medium.

What are you looking for in a strip to join Clickwheel?

T. CAMPBELL: I like things that are good.

Every time comics move to a new medium, the smash successes come from a different direction. Could superhero fans have predicted the success of Penny Arcade? Doubt it. So I'm not being terribly restrictive in terms of genre or style or perceived marketability or whatnot. I am looking for a basic level of craftsmanship, but all cartoonists are invited to apply.

Do you anticipate any of the larger comic companies -- Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image -- making their comics pod-accessable?

T. CAMPBELL: I don't know whether to laugh or cry about Marvel's latest approach to "digital comics," and the other companies you mention seem only slightly more enlightened. They'll stick with their fan-based economies for as long as they can. Tokyopop is being a *lot* smarter about this kind of thing.

But to be fair, most comic books rely on the kind of stuff that podcomics does least well -- big, splashy pages and thick dialogue a la Claremont or a la Bendis. It's tough to translate some of that. Webcomics have been thinking digitally a lot longer and many can make the transition more easily.

What attracts you most to the idea of podcasting comics? What do you see as the greatest drawback of doing it this way?

WILLIAM SIMONS: One of the things that attracts me is that webcomics, like podcasts, are relatively easy to create - you don't need to spend a huge amount of time or money on producing them. Another is their chronological organization, which makes them ideally suited to a delivery system like podcasting. As to the drawbacks, there is, I think, a danger of comics becoming homogenized. Thinking our way around this will be a huge challenge, though I have to say, if the work of demian.5, Colin White and Daniel Merlin Goodbrey is anything to go by, we're not that far off.

T. CAMPBELL: I have faith in the independent thinking of cartoonists. I wrote a long, hopefully-not-rambling blogpost on the virtues of iPods recently, which basically boil down to ubiquity, portability and durability -- virtues shared by comics' other formats, but not all at the same time.

The biggest drawback of doing it this way right now is that it's new. That we have to adjust people to this way of thinking. In a year's time, the biggest drawback will probably be that it's so entrenched we have to work to make people think of it in new ways (laughter).

What webcomics are your favorites? Which would you like to see sign up for Clickwheel that haven't?

WILLIAM SIMONS: Chris Ware is a particular favorite. There are so many ways in which his work can be appreciated, though whether he would agree to coming on Clickwheel is, for the moment, a dream.

T. CAMPBELL: I'm omnivorous. It pays to be when there's so much good material out there. Shaenon K. Garrity. I just *GOT* the author whom I wanted more than any other, so I'm a bit giddy right now (and you'll find out who it is soon, but not today).

What other trends, besides podcasting, do you think hold promise in the current webcomics scene?

T. CAMPBELL: For all its flaws, this is the best cartooning has ever been. Trying to pick out particularly encouraging trends feels to me like trying to pick out individual sunbeams in a dawn.

What are your future plans for Clickwheel? Any other projects you're working on you can tell us about?

WILLIAM SIMONS: Our future plans for Clickwheel are to concentrate on improving the service.

T. CAMPBELL: Keep watching Comixpedia... I think you'll find we're full of surprises.