10 Questions with Steve Ogden from Legend Of Bill, Moon Town & Headstones and Monuments
- Who are you and what are you working on right now? (2 questions in 1, I know!)
I’m Steve Ogden, artist and writer. By day, I’m the Studio Art Director of Firaxis Games. By night, I write and draw comics and other stories. Currently, I’ve just wrapped up Moon Town book #1, I’m the co-writer and illustrator at Legend of Bill, and I’m *this* close to releasing and audiobook version of my latest book, Headstones and Monuments (A Slightly Bone-Chilling Collection of Short Stories). Seriously. It only has to be approved by Audible and it’s live. Aaany day now.
- What drew you to digital comics?
I was looking for some comics online, and fell into the orbit of the Flight folks – Kazu Kibuishi and a whole bunch of talented artists who were publishing their comics themselves and putting their own work online. After an adulthood spent trying to get my strip Croaker’s Gorge picked up for syndication, the thought that you could reach a global audience with practically no overhead appealed to me. I reworked and put my best Croaker’s strips up, and by the time I started working on my graphic novel Moon Town, it was natural to put that online as well, see if I could build an audience for that.
- Webcomics or digital comics?
I think I prefer webcomics that have an eye toward paper publication. I’m not much for reading comics on my PC or Kindle. One or two pages are fine, but for a longer experience, I love getting away from the electronics, flopping in a chair and digging through the pages of a well-crafted book.
- What do you think works with digital comics?
Color, primarily. Art that takes advantage of the medium, art and lettering that are sized appropriately. I’m not much for guided view or click-to-get-the-next-panel presentations.
I’ve seen some animated webcomics that I think may work well on e-readers. Mostly, it involves adding rudimentary effects animation to webcomics. It can be gimmicky, and I have friends who HATE it with a passion, but there are some I think do it well:
This one at Bouletcorp is particularly effective: http://english.bouletcorp.com/2013/10/08/our-toyota-was-fantastic/
The animations in Zac Gorman’s Magical Game Time are really fun. http://magicalgametime.com/tagged/Comics
Niko and the Sword of Light intrigues me. It’s almost more of an animated film than a comic or web comic, but at least they are taking advantage of the strength of the electronic medium. Not sure how I feel about it, but it is gorgeous: http://www.nikoandtheswordoflight.com
When I say I’m not sure how I feel about it, it’s because as a content creator, adding animation is the last thing I need to be worrying about. Adding anything to the process is just going to slow me down. And yet, I do think the public expects your comic to be in color (things like The Walking Dead are the exception) and there may be a future and growing segment of the public that will come to expect animation in the same way.
- Can digital comics replace print comics?
I wish I knew. There are days I think so, and days I think not. For me, digital hasn’t replaced print in comics. But digital has replaced print for me in non-comic books, at least things like Game of Thrones, Wool, The Hunger Games. It’s a question of space, really. So, for someone who buys a lot of comics, it may be a space issue, too, and if they feel about comics the way I feel about novels – love to read ‘em, hate to store them or move them, hate to see them destroyed by mold or time or weather – then I can see comics going largely digital sometime in the future.
But it’s also a question of preference. We have that luxury right now to choose. When I released Headstones and Monuments, I did so both as an eBook and as a Paperback precisely because I think that each format has its place.
Even if digital formats do win out in the end, I imagine print will still be reserved for very special books, books people feel are “worth it”. I go see very few movies in the theatre, preferring to wait for DVD, even if it makes me a little culturally out of it while everyone else has seen it. But the movies I go to see are the spectacles, things I think will benefit from the big screen. I imagine people’s attitudes toward print will be like that – maybe most comics and graphic novels will be digital, but a few select books will demand that print experience.
- How can print comics work with digital comics?
I’m not sure how anyone else intends to work those two aspects together, but for me, the digital – primarily the online component, the “webcomic” component of a printed book – is the adjunct. It’s the marketing end, to a degree. It’s the link I can pass around to would-be fans, a way to get them to read a sample for free and decide whether the printed version is for them.
In my future plans, it’s also a way I can provide stuff print can’t provide: animation, effects, links to more information about different characters or different story points. However, I have not made use of those tools yet. I have my hands full just getting the comic out, and I wonder how that will change for me in the future.
- What don’t you like about digital comics?
I have yet to see one that was presented in a way that suited the medium. Usually the text is too small, or there’s a “guided view” which is gimmicky and non-comic-book-ish to me. I think if you want to make a digital comic, you have to format it for digital right from the start. That’s my objection as a reader, but it leads into my objections as a creatore, where the digital format question only leads more questions. Should you format it specifically for the iPAD? The Kindle Fire? The Nook? PC or Mac screens? All of the above? It also leads to more work, which is outside the mission of just making the comic, just telling the story, and trying to remain relevant, providing a product digitally to a market we imagine is digitally biased, but for which the proper format is really print. Most of us making webcomics and indie comics right now are one or two people at most. Who’s going to format all that content correctly for digital release? Who’s going to add the animation and/or effects?
- What digital comics/webcomics do you read?
I read no comics digitally, even though I have subscribed to Marvel’s free downloads. The fact that tells the tale for me- even though they’re free, even though I really want to read them, I’m not reading them. That tells me something. As for webcomics, I read several:
Ellie on Planet X by Jim Anderson- all the charm of Calvin and Hobbes, but with a unique artistic style that just knocks my socks off. http://ellieonplanetx.com/
Tales of a Checkered Man – Denver Brubaker’s comic noir tale never fails to entertain. Come for the art, stay for the engaging characters and addictive story. http://thecheckeredman.com/
The Angry Dead by Tauhid Bondia – One of the most professional-looking, consistenly drawn webcomics I’ve ever seen. Bondia’s dedication to his craft shames me. http://theangrydead.com/
The Barn by Ralph Hagen – Funny, simple, wonderful to look at. It needs to be in every newspaper (while we’re still making newspapers.) http://thebarncomics.com/
Bug Martini by Adam Huber – Again, simple, but always funny. http://www.bugmartini.com/
- Where do you see digital comics going from here?
I think younger generations will have different ideas about digital vs print than I do. My sons are the ones who have introduced me to Bug Martini, Cyanide and Happiness, Memebase, etc. (Don’t worry, they’re older kids. One’s in college). They read a lot of memes, they consume a lot of entertainment on the computer.
That said, we still get the newspaper, and they still go right for the comics every morning at breakfast. They still have printed comic collections that they read – Calvin and Hobbes, Lio, Pearls Before Swine. But I imagine as they grow up and move out of the house, they won’t buy a newspaper. They won’t buy themselves printed comic collections. They’ll move quite naturally from a print-and-digital hybrid entertainment paradigm to an almost purely digital one. When they have kids, print will not automatically be their default reading method. They’ll likely hand an iPad (or whatever we’re using then) to the kid. Most likely, though, it won’t have comics on it, not the way we think of them today. It’ll have something that looks more like a game. As that happens, I wonder if comics, printed or digital, will just become less popular in light of other entertainment options? Interactivity is extremely popular. Perhaps if comics themselves fail to engage at that level, they will fall out of favour with the next generation. Then again, it’s easy to get carried away with that kind of speculation and forget that stories are also very important, regardless of delivery method.
I love getting sucked into a story that’s well-told. Neil Gaiman, Mike Mignola and Stephen King have taught me more than a bit about writing and story structure, and I look for those things and try to put them into my own work. Certainly, those lessons show up in Headstones and Monuments, and it’s not even a comic! But if future generations continue to be addicted to good stories the way past generations have, that could determine the shape of entertainment. Let’s hope so.
- Who do you think we should look out for in digital comics?
Bobby Chiu with Niko and the Sword of Light [http://www.nikoandtheswordoflight.com ], and Ryan Woodward’s Bottom of the Ninth [http://www.bottom-of-the-ninth.com/ ] are both making a tremendous use of animation and high production values to push digital comics out of the place they’ve been. There’s something of the future in those products, even though I’m not completely sold on the reading experience. I love the animation, I love the art. But they almost seem to not be comics to me. I don’t think I’m smart enough or innovative enough to figure out how to solve the problem I have with those comics, in part because I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s like in one way, the comics are too much movie and not enough comic, but they’re also not completely satisfying as animated experiences. They’re more than a comic, less than a movie. I’m not sure what you do with that, I’m not even sure that’s what people want, but it’s certainly innovative, and certainly someone will crack that code. It will be the thing that finally wins me over completely to digital comics; I’m anxious to see what it turns out to be.