I’ve been a fan of Reilly Brown’s artwork since I first came across it in Marvel’s Cable & Deadpool, and have been following it off and on ever since. There are a lot of artists I like out there, but Reilly is consistently a favorite of mine – his characters’ expressions and the way his drawings capture the energy and emotion of whatever’s happening on the page really appeal to me. I also consider him among the pioneers of the digital comics medium. One of his current projects, Power Play, is a digital comic that was the first effective use of the medium that I had ever seen. To pull from my thoughts when I reviewed the Power Play preview in 2011:
“This is the kind of thing I geek out about, because it excites me to see the potential of the medium being explored to enhance the reading experience. In places it reminds me a bit of the Watchmen stop-animation type video comics they did around the time of the movie, only I never had the patience to watch all of those, since I’d read the book a million times already and they moved too slowly from one frame to the next. But having the ability to read at one’s own pace, and still get the animation-like effects now and again, is fantastic. Being able to see one or two panels at a time, zoomed in or close up, is great. I love the panning from one part of a panel to another, and the fading from full color to monochrome for effect. Having the direction of the screen shifts follow the action is cool; or having the shifts follow the narrative and captions. Also I like how Reilly has the characters in similar poses in a couple of frames, but shifting from one frame to the next gives you the action of a head turn or tilt like in animation.
This is truly the future of how digital comics should be read. I definitely wish I had an iPad so I could experience it in a bigger window, but with only a smartphone, this is hands-down the best way to see digital comics on a hand-held device. For comparison, I downloaded DC Comics New 52 #1 preview and tried reading it on my Droid 2. Now, I know on a computer the usual format is fine; but on a smartphone? It’s fairly unreadable. All the zooming in and panning around necessary just to see one page is a total pain, and not something I have the patience (or eyesight) for. The Power Play layout is infinitely better.”
Given Reilly’s dynamic art and his excellent use of the still-fairly-new digital comics medium, I always consider him one to watch. I’ve also been telling him since something like 2009 that I was going to sit down and interview him one of these days. Finally, at this year’s Baltimore Comic-Con, we made it happen. So here we go!
Emily: So, Reilly, what’s your favorite project that you’ve ever done?
Reilly: My favorite project that I’ve ever worked on is Power Play. I just love doing any creator-owned stuff, especially when I get to sit down and make my own character designs. And not having to feel like the shadows of all of the other decades of awesome artists that have worked on a project before me are looming over me is really freeing. It’s also fun to play around with the digital media and things like that.
Emily: Tell me, what was the genesis of Power Play?
Reilly: It started with me and Kurt Christenson, the writer; since we were both in the same studio at the time, and we’ve been friends for years, one day I said, “You know what, why don’t we do a project together?” and he was like, “Yeah, man, I’d be into it.”
When it started out, we just wanted to do something small, just a quick little simple thing; but as we were spitballing ideas, it turned into this idea that we realized could be really cool if we tried to turn it into something big. The basic idea is that I really wanted to do a story that is based in New York and really uses New York, the real city, as a backdrop. Because so many comics take place in the city but “New York” is just generic buildings in the background or whatever. When I’m walking around the streets, I just see so many cool things – like architectural things, or construction things, or just random things on the street, that are totally normal, but I don’t always think about them when I’m just sitting at my drawing table. And so many of the comics writers don’t even live in New York, so – you know, how do you really make use of a place if you’re not there? I wanted to incorporate New York into a comic.
Emily: How long have you been in New York?
Reilly: I grew up in New Jersey, so I’m right across the river, and I went to school in Virginia but then I moved back after I graduated. So around January 2005 I moved back to New Jersey, with a studio in New York; and I just really wanted to do a story where the writer and I walk around town and plot things out as we go, and just, say, point to a thing, and say, “Okay, the character could jump from that building to that lamppost; and then take a photo reference while we’re there – I actually have photos of most of the backgrounds.
Emily: I didn’t know you actually walk around to plot the stories. That’s pretty cool. So tell me, what’s your favorite hangout or place to go in NYC?
Reilly: There are so many good places to hang out, and it changes all the time. Crocodile Lounge is always a stand-by for me, to go play some skee-ball; and you get a free pizza with every beer. Actually, that’s the bar they go to in the first issue of Power Play; where Mac turns into beer. And…I don’t know, there are too many awesome places to choose from — and half the time, the place is not going to be there in six months.
Emily: That’s true. So who’s you’re favorite character from Power Play, and how does he or she relate to the city?
Reilly: That’s a hard one. I love Gowanus Pete, and the Ice Queen, and Mac…all of the characters are so much fun to draw, and I just feel so close to them.
Emily: Who was the first one you came up with?
Reilly: It was probably either Mac or Gowanus Pete… or the Ice Queen. The studio’s right on the Gowanus Canal, and I remember Kurt and I were having a conversation trying to come up with different characters and their powers as we were leaving the studio and walking to get some lunch. I wanted all of the characters to have kind of goofy origins based on things or places in the city, and just take it to a ridiculous degree; so we were around the Gowanus Canal, which is the nastiest body of water in the country, I mean, it’s horrible. It’s like, multicolored; it’s really just a run-off ditch for a bunch of different waste dumps and things, seriously – look it up. Every now and then you’ll see them testing it to see the different acidity levels and different bacterias and diseases and things people find in there, like they’ll find a dead shark in there, or something like that, or a tiger skull; weird things. So the joke I’ve always had was that if anyone fell in there, they would be horribly mutated – so Kurt and I were walking around talking about different characters and different ideas and powers or personalities, and as we were crossing the Gowanus, there was a really big poster or mural or painting or whatever of the silhouette of an octopus, and Kurt looked at it and said, “Well that’s a character,” and I was like, “Yeah, that’s Gowanus Pete right there.”
Emily: That’s great. You’ve done a really cool digital thing with Power Play – tell me about your digital process and how that all happened; and what your thoughts are on digital comics.
Reilly: The thing that really drove me to do a digital comic was pretty much that no one else was doing it. I saw an area that seemed ripe for comics and for comic artists to play around with, and nobody else seemed to be jumping on it. There are a couple of little webcomics here and there that do stuff; but none that really stood out or that did it for a long-term thing.
Emily: I think we should be making a distinction here; because Marvel and DC and all are doing digital comics, in the sense of putting their stationary paper comics online to be viewed with digital readers; but what I’m thinking of is the way that you’ve manipulated the panels and images with Power Play. So that’s what we’re talking about here.
Reilly: Right; well ComiXology came out, and they were translating all of these Marvel and DC comics, so the typical, mainstream, superhero comics were finding this new digital home through their application. And I was looking at this, thinking, “This is a really cool thing; somebody is going to see this and start making comics designed specifically for ComiXology, or this type of digital format, and they’re going to do it in a way that uses the new digital storytelling techniques.
The thing is, ComiXology did a great job of translating the comic to the iPad, and there are other companies that have tried doing that, but they’ve seemed to trip over the fact that the comics page and the iPad screen, or even the computer screen, aren’t the same shape. Everybody else was stumbling over this, and you had to scroll, or everything was shrunk too small, or you had to zoom in yourself, or there’d be all sorts of problems with it; and ComiXology had found a pretty simple way around that, and it worked great, and it looked great. Yeah, there were a few hoops they had to jump through, but the way they solved those problems; like their guided view thing, you know, where they would actually zoom in on a part of an image that needed to be zoomed in on; and then they would zoom out for the rest of it; or it would pan from one thing to another, and fade from one thing to another, was great. And I thought, “Man, look at all of this stuff they’re pretty much doing by accident at this point; somebody’s going to come around and do this on purpose and it’s going to make an awesome comic.” But nobody was doing it, so then I thought, “Well maybe I could do it. Maybe I’ll be the guy to do that!”
So that’s why we started working on Power Play. I was talking about how we came up with the idea for Power Play; and one of the things we wanted to do was to take advantage of the new mediums. You know, one of the big problems in the entire economy right now is that young people don’t leave their houses or spend money. They’re just on Facebook, downloading things for free, and sharing with their friends, and it’s at the point where if something is not on Facebook, nobody’s going to see it, or at least not as many people as should see it. So we said, “Whatever we do, we want to get it in front of as many people as possible, so let’s come up with a way of doing a really great thing that we can link through Facebook, and everyone can share it; and that takes advantage of that. “ And ComiXology was developed so perfectly for that. So we jumped on that.
Emily: I still point to your comic to show people how this can work. I know there may be a few now, but it’s still not as big as I would expect.
Reilly: You’re right; I’m surprised more people haven’t jumped on it. There are a few others that were first adopters like me, like Alex de Campi and Christine Larsen (Valentine). They actually beat me to the punch; we were already working on Power Play when I saw that come out, and I was like, “Aw, crap, we’re not the first anymore! We’ve really gotta get this thing going!” There’s also David Gallaher and Steve Ellis’s Box 13, which ComiXology actually hired them to make; so it’s really made for their app. And reading that, you really see how their [Steve & Dave’s] thought process is developing on how to use it. How they are learning. At first, it was just as simple as, let’s just make the panels the size or shape of a screen. But then they started seeing more potential. I was in the same building – Steve Ellis’s art studio was just down the hall from mine – so I was working on Power Play while they were working on that, so we’d bounce ideas off of each other. So it was cool to see how some of that stuff ended up playing in their comic.
Most recently, Marvel had their Infinite Comics, which I was happy to be a part of. They have the big AvX [Avengers vs. X-Men] story, and I’d been talking about what I’ve been doing with Power Play to Marvel for awhile, like, “Let me do one of these for you!” I talked to all the editors… Nick Lowe was the one who was really spearheading it over there; or at least when I was talking to them Nick Lowe and Jordan White were the editors that I worked with on that. They’re awesome for seeing that potential and taking a risk, because, you know, Marvel doesn’t often do stuff like that, where they don’t know how it will turn out; and it’s pretty impressive to see a big company like that try to take a risk on something that’s so new. But at the same time I was doing this, Mark Waid was starting his Thrillbent thing, so he was talking all about it. So he wrote the three AvX Infinite installments, and I drew the third one; which was cool. And that was all ComiXology stuff, and it’s all just like how Power Play was done.
Emily: That’s fantastic. I’ll have to look that up, because I haven’t seen it yet. So now, what does the future hold for you?
Reilly: Well I’m not exclusive with Marvel, but I’m currently working on some Scarlet Spider stuff, and we’ll see what happens from there. I’ve still got Power Play going on, and I’ve got some other side projects… I have so many things going on right now!
Emily: It sounds like it! Well Reilly, thanks so much for talking with us , and I look forward to seeing what you come up with next!
…And until then, ComicMix readers, remember to tune in next Tuesday for my interview with Dean Haspiel, and Servo Lectio!
TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Why Does Michael Davis Read Comics?
WEDNESDAY: Mike Gold Attacks Mars Attacks!
I like comic book conventions, although I’ve been pretty hard on them lately. These days most conventions have little to do with comic books. They have a lot to do with pop culture and celebrities and movies and autographs and promotion, but over the past decade or two comic books have become the ugly stepchildren within their own temples.
Except for a handful. Mid-Ohio Con has been consumed by the dreaded Wizard ogre; that one used to be a favorite. HeroesCon in North Carolina is high on my list of the exceptional; I wish I could get there each year. There are plenty of great small shows, usually held in hotels and attracting people from about a 200 mile radius, if the weather is agreeable. And, as I’ve incessantly proselytized to the annoyance of thousands, my absolute favorite: the Baltimore Comic-Con.
First and foremost, the Baltimore Comic-Con is about comic books. The panels are about comic books. The exhibitors are about comic books. The awards ceremony is about comic books. In short, it is a comic book convention.
Second, it’s only two days: Saturday and Sunday. The burnout rate is low and people tend not to leave as early on Sundays. You can get as much done in those two days as you can elsewhere in three… or four. Third, the staff is well-trained, efficient, and so damn polite if you’re from New York your skin just might peel off in strips.
I’m happy to say I’ve got a hell of a lot of friends who go there. It’s one of the few shows Timothy Truman attends. Mark and Carol Wheatley both put me up and put up with me year after year; my daughter and ComicMix comrade Adriane Nash gets to stay in Mark’s breathtaking library and studio. Marc Hempel joins us at the Insight Studios booth. Great folks like Gene Ha, Brian Bolland, Amy Chu, Andrew Pepoy, Denis Kitchen, Jack C. Harris, Walter and Louise Simonson, Joe Rubenstein, Larry Hama, Matt Wagner, John K. Snyder III … we don’t have the bandwidth to name a tenth of the people I hang out with at the show. Even the (fairly) recently liberated Paul Levitz showed up as a freelancer.
Better still, the ambiance of the Baltimore Comic-Con allows me to make new friends, something that’s almost impossible to do at the largest shows like San Diego, New York, and Chicago. This year I was exceptionally lucky, spending memorable time with Phil LaMarr and Ross Richie.
ComicMix was there in full-force: Vinnie Bartilucci, Glenn Hauman, the aforementioned Adriane Nash, Emily S. Whitten, and the non-alphabetical Marc Alan Fishman – who was there with the rest of the Unshaven Comics crew, Matt Wright, and Kyle Gnepper, where they managed to sell out of their excellent indy comic, Samurnauts.
Probably the highlight of the Baltimore show each year is the Harvey Awards dinner, and this year was no exception. Phil LaMarr served as master of ceremonies, keeping the three and one-half hour show moving while keeping the audience in stiches, Ross Richie delivered an inspiring keynote address, and as usual Paul McSpadden did his usual amazing job coordinating the whole event.
The Hero Initiative honored Joe Kubert with its Humanitarian of the Year award – a decision made before Joe’s passing last month – and Dr. Kevin Brogan delivered a moving tribute to the late cartoonist and educator. As it turns out, Joe left us one more graphic novel. Their annual Lifetime Achievement Award went to John Romita Jr., in a presentation made by the team of Stan Lee and John Romita Sr.
I particularly enjoyed seeing Marc, Kyle and Matt there for the first time – being sequestered in that room with most of the above-mentioned folks as well as with Stan Lee, John Romita Sr. and Jr., Mark Waid and so many others seemed like a heady experience for our pals, who, I think it’s safe to say, were in fanboy heaven. Pretty damn cool. I’m proud to say our own Glenn Hauman helped in the IT end of things, and ComicMix joined Insight Studios, DC Entertainment, Boom!, Comixology, Richmond Comix and Games, ComicWow!, Painted Visions, Bloop, Captain Blue Hen, Cards Comics and Collectibles, and Geppi’s Entertainment Museum as sponsors.
And I managed to sign up a new columnist for this site. I mentioned the name above somewhere (good hunting), and this person will start out as soon as we iron out scheduling issues and the usual start-up stuff. I’m very excited about this, and you will be too when you read this person’s stuff.
We also went apeshit covering the cosplay scene. Adriane posted about 100,000 pictures on our ComicMix Facebook page, all to the obvious enjoyment of the masses. We’ll be expanding our cosplay coverage considerably, while at the same time polishing our alliteration.
On behalf of the whole ComicMix crew, I want to deeply thank Marc Nathan and Brad Tree for once again putting on the best show in comics, and to thank my dearest of friends Mark and Carol Wheatley for being our personal sponsors. We-all had a great time!
THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil
Monkeybrain and ComiXology announce exclusive distribution agreement for Monkeybrain’s new line of independent creator-owned comics
A press release from Chip Mosher of ComiXology.com:
New York Times bestselling comic book creator Chris Roberson is celebrating “Independents Day” a little differently than others this year as he and co-publisher Allison Baker launch MonkeyBrain Comics, with a slate of creator-owned titles from some of the top names in the field. MonkeyBrain Comics will debut digitally first on comiXology—the revolutionary digital comics platform with over 75 million comic and graphic novel downloads to date—through a exclusive distribution agreement between the two companies.
Joining Roberson (iZombie, Memorial, Cinderella) under the Monkeybrain Comics umbrella with their own independent titles will be a who’s who line up of creators, including: Grace Allison, Nick Brokenshire, J. Bone, Chad Bowers, Wook-Jin Clark, Colleen Coover, Kevin Church, Dennis Culver, Matt Digges, Ming Doyle, Curt O. Franklin, Ken Garing, Chris Haley, David Hahn, Phil Hester, Joe Keatinge, D.J. Kirkbride, Adam Knave, Axel Medellin, Jennifer L. Meyer, Michael Montenat, Ananth Panagariya, Thomas Perkins, Adam Rosenlund, Chris Schweitzer, Brandon Seifert, Chris Sims, Matthew Dow Smith, Paul Tobin, J. Torres, Josh Williamson and Bill Willingham, among others.
More creative teams with new titles will be announced next week at Comic-Con International during the Monkeybrain Comics panel on Friday, July 13th at 7PM.
“MonkeyBrain Comics was born out of a desire to directly explore what opportunities there were in the newly expanding digital marketplace for creator owned material,” said Roberson. “We knew from the get go that we’d want to work exclusively with comiXology, who have become the undisputed leader in the digital comics field with their platforms’ unparalleled reading and shopping experience. And we’re pleased to have so many of our close creator friends along for the ride. I can’t wait to see what fans around the world think about our first batch of releases!”
“We’re excited to be the exclusive digital home of MonkeyBrain Comics,” says co-founder and CEO David Steinberger. “ComiXology’s mission is to get comics into the hands of people everywhere and we look forward to doing just that with Chris and Allison’s stellar line of creator owned comics!”
MonkeyBrain Comics is a new comics imprint of Roberson and Baker’s long-running publishing company MonkeyBrain Books. Over the past decade, MonkeyBrain Books has published a line of prose novels by authors such as Phillip Jose Farmer, Michael Moorcock, Rudy Rucker, Paul Cornell and genre collections edited by such notables as Joe R. Lansdale, Lou Anders and others.
Launching their first titles on July 4th with the slogan “Independents Day” exclusively on the comiXology digital platform, Monkeybrain Comics are currently exploring following up their digital releases with trade paperback collections.
- New MonkeyBrain digital imprint launches with five titles (comicsbeat.com)