Go! Comi is well known to manga fans as publisher of a handful of carefully selected, beautifully printed manga from Japan. Wendy Pini is known as the creator of Elfquest, one of the first manga-influenced comics by a non-Japanese creator.
At the New York Comic-Con, Go! Comi announced that Pini would be creating a three-volume, full color manga, The Masque of the Red Death, based on the Edgar Allen Poe story of the same name—but only loosely. Pini has set the story in the future and created new characters while keeping the spirit of the Poe's original idea.
So why is this on Digital Strips? Because Go! Comi will be releasing The Masque of the Red Death as a webcomic, updating with three pages a week, before publishing the print volumes. Daku and I talked to Pini and to Go! Comi CEO David Wise and Creative Director Audry Taylor about the story and why they decided to take it to the web.
DS: What attracted you to this story?
Wendy: In addition to being a fantasy artist and writer I have always loved dark, gothic romance. I have always loved science fiction, and The Masque of the Red Death is a combination of all the things I love. it is a dark, brooding interpretation of an already dark and brooding story by Edgar Allen Poe, but it takes it in a futuristic direction in a science fiction setting. Also, it's peopled with brand new characters who are not in the Poe story but seem to grow for me out of the Poe story.
DS: Are you drawing this on the computer?
Wendy: Yes, I am doing all the illustrations on a Wacom tablet or a Cintiq. These two drawing tools are immeasurably useful. They save so much time. You can do your penciling, inking, and coloring all on one shot in the same file. And so it saves a lot of steps in the creation process.
DS: Tell us a bit about the characters.
Wendy: The Masque of the Red Death is populated by characters that are very archetypal. Anton, Prince Prosper, is the lead character in the story. He is a darkly attractive, ambiguous character—you don't know if he is a hero or a villain. His significant other is a very beautiful young man named Stefan. Stefan is truly a lover. The tragedy comes out of his jealousy and his feeling that Prosper has betrayed him. The third element of the triangle is an innocent young man named Dariel who has a very humanistic point of view, as opposed to Prosper, who believes in only one thing: pure science.
By the end of the story you are not going to know who the hero or the villain is. Everybody in the story has a side and you're going to feel sorry for all of them, even the worst of them.
DS: Why are you putting this comic online?
Wendy: Because times have changed. Having comics online is a great way of generating interest from an audience. If an audience has to wait the full year or more it takes to produce a 160-page volume, it's kind of hard to hold them, but if they know they can count Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on a full page, they are going to be following that story.
DS: Are you modeling it after any other webcomic?
Wendy: No, we are going to invent ours from scratch and we are going to take a different approach from what's up there so far and we are going to take the opportunity to add a little actual animation to it. What you'll see is more an atmospheric type of approach. For example, if we have two characters in middle of a misty fog, you might see the fog billowing around them even though the characters stay still. We'll use it very judiciously. It's all about mood, especially in a story like this.
DS: How will you promote this?
Audry: we are planning some special internet promotions. We like to do things that are very unusual and we love giving away free stuff like really beautiful posters.
Wendy: We will also do cross promotion for Masque on the Elfquest website.
Audry: We'll add trailers and previews featuring the characters, about Wendy.
Wendy: And the fans are going to be able to write letters to the characters and get responses.
Audry: We will have mini flash games to promote the project.
Wendy: Audry's idea is that this can be hugely interactive, that this will be a world the fans can be part of.
Audry: We're doing a whole facelift to Go! Comi. It's going to be a strong interactive presence so people can come and immerse themselves in the comic.
Wendy: I'm not going to be available for a lot of questions from fans. It's a very mysterious story, and I'm not a blogger.
Audry: We want to be a bridge between the artist and the audience. We will add our own information; we will report on the creator and her experiences with creating it.
DS: Why did you choose this model?
David: We're looking for some way to create involvement for readers in the story between the endless wait between tankoubon [book-length works]. Webcomics is an obvious alternative to publishing a physical magazine, which is a tremendously risky undertaking.
David: You build your site and you pay for your bandwidth and that's pretty much it, and you have one person take care of it. There are massive production issues with magazines, distribution issues, publicity issues. To start a magazine you need a million or two dollars.
This is also the generation that grew up on the web. They are less interested in phonebooks [comics magazines] and this is their natural area to be finding their comics in. If you look at the rise of Japanese pop culture it pretty much parallels the rise of the internet. In the 80s there were a few fans, it was a cult thing, it was known to a few of us who had been to Japan. Suddenly when you get the web kicking into high gear in the 90s you see the sales curve of anime and manga going up. Now people are into all forms of fandom—cosplay, dolls—and they get all their information from the web. They don't get it from a magazine. If you're going to deal with the phenomenon of scanlations anyway, control it. We want to make it available, we want as many people to read it as possible, and we know people who read it will want the book as a keepsake—and the people who read it online because it's free are never going to buy it anyway. It's a wonderful tool for creating awareness. We want to do everything possible to promote our original properties that are web based to fans.
DS: How are you planning to attract crowds?
David: We make the people aware and excited about it and they do your advertising for you. Word of mouse advertising. It's blogs, it's kids using their favorite character as an avatar in chat rooms and things like that. That's the environment that we want to basically operate in. Tokyopop has set up a whole online community. Our approach is different. We're not Tokyopop. We respect what they are doing, but it's not our way of doing things. Basically we want to make the web the key weapon in our arsenal of world domination. The manga phenomenon has really started with fans talking about it and sharing the images on the web.
DS: Will you keep Masque on the web once the print volumes are out?
David: We haven't made a final decision. I think we would probably leave it on, but we haven't decided.