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Crossing Boundaries, Part 1

CrossGen Comics inaugurates two new programs aimed at expanding the comic book audience...but will they succeed?

By Arnold T. Blumberg     May 13, 2002


"Comics on the Web" offers a subscription-based library of CrossGen comics
© 2002 CrossGen Comics
As anyone in comics will tell you, CrossGen VP Tony Panaccio included, the comic book reading community is an insular little group. CrossGen Comics is determined to bring comic book entertainment into the mainstream, and they've put their money where their mouth is.

SOJOURN #1 from CrossGen Comics

"The problem with comics is we keep coming up with new ways to market to the same people," says Panaccio. "They're an incredibly loyal, vibrant audience, [but] God bless them, they're not enough to support the industry. This is the basis for CrossGen in general. We cannot continue to market a product at an ever-increasing price to an ever-dwindling number of people and expect to have a future. If we continue to do that and continue to see shops closing and publishers failing, we have lost our right to be surprised at this. This is Darwinism!"

The answer? Bring CrossGen's comics to the largest possible audience - web surfers. In a pioneering effort that includes partner sites like Youtopia.com and ucomics.com, CrossGen has introduced Comics on the Web (www.comicsontheweb.com), a subscription-based library of Internet-based comics which will present the CrossGen line in a user-friendly format. Launching with more than 50 issues available, the service is expected to grow to more than 800 issues of material by 2005 at a price of $1 per month.

"This is how you get Lycos to care about putting comics up, it's a revenue-generating proposition for them," says Panaccio. "Our subscription is a buck a month. We have an eight dollar price which gets you ten months, the first two are free. We split the revenue by varying degrees depending on the size of the portals."

The decision to make this move was an easy one once CrossGen realized the time was right to innovate.

More art from CRUX 10

"We knew that we had to branch out and do a lot of things that have never been tried before," says Panaccio. "The last two years of development has been leading up to this point. We knew two years ago that comics on the web would have to be a reality, but we didn't know what form it was going to take, so we spent a lot of time, effort, and money on researching and developing just as any web company would. I've been involved in a lot of web launches on the marketing end, including Stan Lee Media - I was the PR person behind the publicity campaign leading up to the launch of Stan Lee Media."

"So we started at the beginning and downloaded hundreds of web-based comics. We knew it had to be fast. We needed to make it accessible, and there's a fine line we had to tread. We couldn't "overwebify" it or "underwebify" it we wanted to make use of the existing web presentation technologies without going overboard. Too many times they'll do something because they can, not because they should, so we had to come up with a baseline feature set before we set our web team on it."

Rather than rely on in-house talent to sort out all these problems, CrossGen turned to a web master who could provide just the right touch for their dream project.

"I love Mark Alessi because he doesn't like taking second best," says Panaccio of CrossGen's pioneering president. Seeking the expert to design the interface for the new venture, Alessi hired legendary Flash animator Gabo Mendoza to devise the Comics on the Web look and controls.

"When the web guys were talking about how to develop this vision of a Flash-web hybrid, the name Gabo Mendoza came up," says Panaccio. "And he's one of the legends of Flash animation, so when his name came up, [Alessi said], 'Just get Gabo!' Gabo adored the comics when he got them, did an incredible mock-up in one day and we knew we'd found our man."

There's a new detective in town! Cover of RUSE #1.

Panaccio adds that when a VP from one of the "Big Two" comic book publishers saw the prototype, she was heard to say, "I'm going to have to go back to my office and yell at a lot of people."

In development for several years, the new delivery method had to be fast and accessible, but it also had to avoid some pretty high-profile pitfalls, like those that befell Stan Lee Media.

"I love Stan to death, but what was essentially on there were badly animated cartoons, not comics, not 'webisodes'," says Panaccio. "We found in our research that anything presented in html or Acrobat format you have to click and then zoom out, scroll down...it was a pain in the butt to read. You had to zoom in to read and zoom out to understand what the art was. So we created a situation where readers could see the comic book like they read any normal comic, with two pages open. [They] see the sequential artwork."

Next time, we look a bit more at the Comics on the Web interface and move on to examine another CrossGen launch, the compilation titles FORGE and EDGE. Are they the answer to bringing comics to the mainstream consumer?

TO BE CONTINUED

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