We’re living in an exciting time for comics, with plenty of independent creators being able to get their work in front of an audience and engage with people around the world. A number of apps for independent comics have started to be developed, and one of the most promising is Macroverse. The brainchild of M2, Macroverse is a phone app that allows comics to be consumed in a creative format. Creators Eben Matthews and Adam Martin teamed up with comic artist Steven Perkins to produce an original comic for Macroverse called DeadTown. I enjoyed talking to all three of them about how the app can help indie creators and the hope that Macroverse can become the Netflix of comics.
Macroverse sounds like an app that could help push the boundaries of comics and readership. Could you describe it briefly for the Comic Vault’s audience?
Eben: Macroverse is a new platform that brings comics into the digital age. Content is conceived and created with our format in mind which opens up new storytelling and creative opportunities only possible in digital media.
Adam: We wanted to create something that would appeal to avid comics fans and new readers alike. People are constantly searching for new ways of experiencing storytelling, so the app scratches that itch, whilst also satisfying the more traditional fan with gorgeous artwork and compelling stories… The best of all worlds!
Steven: In addition to what Adam and Eben mentioned, it also provides a lot of new options for how writers and artists can present comic book stories. That, to me, is the biggest boundary that the format pushes and breaks through creatively. It allows creators to tell their stories in the exact pacing they choose, and to a large degree, allows creators to tailor the reading experience for maximum effectiveness. Every screen-tap works much like a page turn in traditional comics, so there is no peeking ahead or spoiling surprises.
Eben: Ultimately, our vision is that Macroverse becomes a central hub for innovative storytelling in comics and related media – allowing for a deeper connection between creators and fans in one central location that is always close at hand: Mobile devices!
Where did the inspiration for the app come from and at what point did you decide to start working on it?
Eben: We are life long comics fans and proudly consider ourselves pop culture geeks in general. The initial idea came just after producing the Boondock Saints comic series we published with 12-Gauge Comics. After some time away from the comics industry, that put us happily back in the thick of it. A series of insights during that process along with the widespread adoption of smart phones and tablets made it clear to us that there’s a big opportunity in whole heartedly embracing a digital approach to the medium.
The big eureka moment came when we started writing and creating comics in the format. We’ve been internally testing versions of this for several years, finalizing the creative and production methodologies to deliver on the best experience possible. Through that process we found an incredible freedom with how a comics narrative can be told. As creators, that was revelatory.
Adam: Finally, last year we connected with Steven and realized that, with him on board for DeadTown, all the pieces were in place to create the compelling initial series we wanted to launch with. At that point, we felt compelled to get this done and out to the world.
I think it’s great that you guys came from a comic fan background to make Macroverse happen. How did you get into comics to begin with?
Adam: I grew up in the U.K. with 2000AD, and collected it avidly. I was at school, and would run down to the local comic shop every Tuesday to get he latest issue… much to my parents’ confusion.
Eben: Superman was my gateway into comics. Somehow I knew Superman before I could read and was inescapably attracted to the character. Most of my early childhood was spent dressed in Superman costumes – back in the golden days of Underoos! Once I understood that there were actual stories that could be read, I’d collect whatever comics I could from the spinner racks at gas stations or news stands. I’d buy as many issues as I could with whatever cash I could scrape together to get them.
A few years later, I remember going to my first physical comics store and feeling like I was home. This was my place. My people and where I belonged. That trip to the comic store became part of my weekly ritual. I’ve also been drawing since I was two years old. Through High School and into art school I thought I’d become a comics artist professionally. That combination kept me thoroughly engaged in the medium…
Then, as a comics-loving teen in the 90’s, the indy comics scene started to blow up. I got into stuff like the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Cat and Mouse and other black and white books and than Image happened. Image not only gave me content I loved, but helped to shape my thinking about artists and creators controlling their own destiny. Creative pioneers that build things have always resonated with me. Walt Disney, George Lucas, Steve Jobs and the like – Creators that found ways to push their medium forward by embracing change and building the tools necessary to evolve their medium. That’s what I’ve always endeavored to do.
Steven: I’ll chime in here too. I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be an artist, and I had a profound love for comics growing up. These interests naturally dovetailed, so I focused on art in high school, majored in illustration in college and then jumped into the comics industry with both feet after graduating.
Are there any comic characters in particular that you connect with?
Steven: Growing up, it was always the Incredible Hulk- the Lou Ferrigno TV show before I could read, then the comics thereafter. Now, as far as specific characters, it’s all about Hellboy for me… although I also find myself far more interested in crime comics like Stray Bullets or horror comics like The Black Monday Murders than I am in most superhero comics. Batman is still the best superhero, obviously.
Eben: See folks, Steven’s talented AND funny! I can corrolate the characters that have resonated with me pretty directly to the phase of life I’ve been in as I discovered them:
Superman connected with me so completely as a kid due to an inmate desire to do the fantastic. When I (sadly) realized that I wasn’t from Krypton and (damn it!) couldn’t fly I, and my Underoos, pivited to Batman. All I needed there was to be super rich. I was fine with that.
As I got older I fell in love with Spider-Man and specifically the classic Stan Lee / Steve Ditko run. Spider-Man connected with me for the reason that Marvel become so prominent to begin with – Peter Parker had real, relevant life challenges and yet, he still found the will and strength to do the right things and aspire to make a difference in the world.
As I honed in on my own artistic endeavors, I’d buy books primarily for the art but when the combination of art and story really worked, it was (and is) magic. The Chris Claremont run on X-Men got me hooked on Mutants (especially with Marc Silvestri and than Jim Lee). That resonated with me as a teen dealing with notions of fitting in and an awareness of being different, or not, compared to other groups. Around that time I started going to comic conventions where I found and fell in LOVE with Longshot. He’s still one of my favourite characters – in no small part due to Art Adams stunning debut on the art – but, I also loved the idea of luck as a power.
In art school I discovered books like Watchmen and The Dark Knight and then Sin City, Hellboy and more. High level, boundary pushing, autor and creator driven material really got my attention which led me to want to make that stuff, or material like it myself. That led me to European comics. creators like Moebeus and characters like Judge Dredd, ABC robots and more. At this point, the stuff I read is pretty much all creator owned or driven. Recent (or semi-recent) favs have been Y The Last Man, The digital first series Private Eye and unapologetically, my own work with Adam and Steven on DeadTown and the other original series’ we’re developing.
Adam: Any guesses as to who the long-winded one is in this partnership? Having been bullied at school, I always liked Judge Dredd’s strength and ballistic approach to the world… having said that, I also loved some of the wackier 2000AD offerings like Dr & Quince.
Do you have any favourite comic creators and if so, what stories have stood out to you the most over the years?
Adam: Pat Mills and Simon Bisley on Slaine the Horned God and basically anything by Grant Morrison, especially his and Dave McKean’s work on Arkham Asylum are among my all time favourites.
Steven: Mike Mignola has had a massive influence on me, both as a writer and an artist. I find what he has done with Hellboy incredibly inspiring. PREACHER is still my favourite comic book series ever. The CRIMINAL books are awesome, too. I tend to initially be more attracted to the art of most comics than the story though, and there are a bunch of artists – Bill Sienkiewicz, Ashley Wood, John Paul Leon, Jock, Tomm Coker, Jason Shawn Alexander, to name a few- whose work I will buy regardless of what story or character it is for. And the list is always growing. In addition to those current-day artists whom I study and admire, I am also really into studying the work of masters from yesteryear like Jorge Zaffino and Sergio Toppi. Lately, I’ve fallen in love with the work of Alberto Breccia.
Eben: Brain K. Vaughn for sure. As mentioned, his work on Private Eye with Marcos Martin and with Pia Guerra on Y the Last Man are spectacular. I also really like what Jason Aaron and Jason Latour are doing with Southern Bastards. I’m always in for Brubaker and Phillips on Criminal (and really anything they do), still into Kirkman and Charlie Adlard and The Walking Dead and, I’m biased because we’re friends, but last year I really liked Plastic from Doug Wagner and Daniel Hillyard. There’s so much great stuff being produced. It’s a great time to be a comics fan!
As DeadTown is the main story that readers can get on Macroverse, how did the collaboration with artist Steven Perkins come about?
Adam: Our company, M2 produces animation for entertainment, advertising and more. We were hired last year to create a keynote video and other materials for online security company, Netscout’s annual conference. Steven created all the art for that and about half way through that project, we started talking about him for DeadTown.
Eben: A mutual friend, and brilliant creator in his own right, Tomm Coker, referred us to Steven. He did amazing work on the Netscout job and we hit it off personally as well. We had been looking for just the right artist for DeadTown and Steven is absolutely that artist. Every time he delivers new work it’s like opening presents. His work is SOOOOOO GOOOD!
Adam: So now we keep him busy drawing zombies…
Steven, what made you want to be a part of DeadTown and draw the comic?
Steven: After we wrapped up the animation project Adam mentioned, He and Eben asked if I wanted to draw DeadTown. I really loved the concept of “noir zombies” and the world they cooked up, too. For a while now, a huge portion of the projects I’ve worked on (THE COLDEST WINTER, CREDENCE, etc) were all real-world street level stories which were a blast to do, but had me itching to work on something supernatural/horror-based next. The DeadTown story is the best of both worlds, in that it is to a large degree street-level action but with the added spice of zombies lurking around every corner. Then when they told me about the new Macroverse format they wanted to tell the story in, I knew they were really onto something with it. The icing on the cake was the fact that the story DeadTown tells is a smart, nuanced, grimy tale that I would love as a reader, and not just an empty bash-em-up zombie splatterfest. Plus, drawing zombies is always a… no brainer.
Eben: See. Funny.
With popular zombie series like The Walking Dead out there, what sets Deadtown apart from similar stories?
Adam: DeadTown is very much a human drama playing out against the backdrop of this destroyed city, where the “haves” live in literal towers, whilst the rest of the the people scratch a living on the streets. The Zombies are an ever present threat, but not a lot of the story actually involves them. There are glimpses, but the first true zombie doesn’t make an appearance until several episodes into the series.
Eben: We love The Walking Dead and, of course, there are similarities in that they both use the concept of Zombies as a metaphor and way of commenting on the world. DeadTown is a unique genre mash up that pushes the Zombie component to the background. They are a constant threat that the characters in this world have to deal with but, generally a manageable one… This puts the focus on this hyper-stylized neo-noir post-apocalyptic near future and those that live in it.
Our original concept for DeadTown is “Sam Spade meets Dawn of the Dead”. It’s the story of a hard-boiled, reluctant protagonist that has to come to grips with who he is and how he operates in this new world order. DeadTown takes place in one walled off city that has, in the wake of the plague, been cut off from the rest of the world. We have our own unique take on the social structure that has developed as a result, which allows us to have a lot of fun using and subverting tropes from classic Film Noir, the Zombie and horror genre, crime fiction and more.
Stylistically it’s conceived very cinematically. We think of it as making a TV show or movie in our Macroverse format. Part of our thought process is “What if the very best Film Noir films like “A Touch of Evil” or “The Maltese Falcon” were told with a modern sensibility and had the ability to utilize state of the art visual effects?” With Steven, we’ve developed this incredible stylistic foundation upon which we can weave a gripping story filled with complex and compelling characters.
Steven: On the art side of things, I am trying to do something visually unique and different from previous zombie comics… which is a pretty daunting task. There have been so many great, memorable zombie types/looks/styles in the past, and it is a real challenge to try and put a new spin on the zombie archetype. When Adam and Eben approached me to draw it, they told me they were interested in doing a noir treatment of zombies, and that really excited me because it was something I hadn’t really seen much of before. For me, the fun of making zombies is that they are a bit of a sandbox to play in, like vampires or werewolves, and that there aren’t a whole lot of rules for what is “allowed” as far as look or style. DeadTown has been the perfect opportunity to exercise that freedom.
Eben: We’ve got big plans for DeadTown and we hope people will enjoy the ride as much as we’ve loved developing, planning and creating it. The first season on Macroverse will be 36 episodes, rolling out on the platform bi-weekly.
Macroverse feels like it’s geared towards promoting independent comic creators. Do you believe the comic industry has changed for the better in terms of giving indie creators more opportunities?
Steven: Of course. I think that is true of all creative industries – music, film, books, comics, you name it. The internet, coupled with easy access to professional-level tools have made it so that essentially anyone with a creative vision can make that vision a reality with a little time and a computer or smartphone. I think Macroverse fits perfectly into the rising tide of independent comic creators by giving those creators a powerful new way to tell their tales and access a massive audience.
Eben: Absolutely! The indy boom of the 90’s and Image (with those that followed) have done wonders in that regard for traditional comics publishing. Now, through the internet and social media, creators can reach and connect with an audience in ways that would have been impossible even 10 years ago. As a creator, there’s never been a better time to make the thing you’ve always wanted to make.
That said, a big part of the vision for Macroverse is to solve the piece of that puzzle that we feel has been the most illusive – connecting creators and fans such that the work can reach as wide an audience as possible. This allows comics to expand and connect with the next generation of fans and provides creators with a model to fully monetize their material. Accomplishing that gives creators the means to make and distribute their best and most innovative work and it gives fans a destination to discover and enjoy a whole new level of access to the content, the process and ultimately incredible new entertainment experiences.
Adam: The internet has dramatically improved the access independent creators have to their fans. That ability to develop avid (and large) followings completely outside the traditional market is hugely impactful. Part of our plan with Macroverse is to facilitate that by building a central hub where fans can discover stories that would otherwise not cross their paths. That is one of the most exciting things for us – creating a world where these relationships can flourish…
Steven: The more options a reader has for finding a story, the more likely that reader will see that story. Just about everybody has a smartphone or tablet, so the path for a reader to check out Deadtown, and more stories down the road, is just a click on the App Store. It doesn’t get much easier for a reader, short of beaming the story directly into their brains (which I think Adam and Eben are already working on).
Is the process of drawing for a digital comic any different than drawing for a traditional one?
Steven: Yes, but it has more to do with panel layout and progression than with the actual drawing itself. I still draw the same way for DeadTown as for a print comic, but the mindset is a little different in the thumbnail stage because the app is tap-based, as opposed to page-based like in print. A lot of the same principles apply, but the freedom to, for example, have panels appear on top of other panels is unique to the Macroverse format. There is a lot more room to play around with panel layout and juxtaposition, and the format is more sandbox-y than that of traditional print comics.
As technology becomes more advanced, do you feel there’s still a place for traditional graphic novels?
Adam: Absolutely. There is still nothing like holding a beautiful graphic novel in your hands, and leafing through it’s pages. Having grown up with those, I cannot imagine ever getting rid of them completely!
Eben: What he said. I’m not personally convinced that there will continue to be a long term place for traditional monthly “floppies” but print does play a role in our long term plans for Macroverse.
Steven: Yes. Printed comics will always be around to some degree, although like Eben, I am not sure monthly issues will continue in print long-term. But that said, for me there is a real satisfaction to holding a complete story in your hands and reading printed books. I don’t see why print and digital can’t coexist- the more options a reader has to get their hands on a story, the more likely that story gets read.
Have any other indie comic creators expressed interest in streaming their content on Macroverse?
Eben: Absolutely. The early response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’re carefully curating the next series’ and having those conversations now. We want Macroverse to be a home for innovative top tier storytelling across all genre’s. If anyone reading is interested in talking about creating with or for Macroverse we’re open.
Steven, do you have any future projects that you’d like to include on Macroverse?
Steven: Absolutely. For now, I am laser-focused on DeadTown, but there are always a few ideas of my own simmering on the back burner.
Where do you see Macroverse heading in the next few years?
Adam: World domination
Eben: We see Macroverse becoming the Netflix of comics. We’ll provide a place for creators across many mediums to develop innovative story driven content and explore the possibilities and opportunities available when great story and art meets modern technologies. It’s gonna be fun and oh so cool!
Steven: I am a big believer in Adam’s and Eben’s vision for it to become the Netflix of comics, and as an outlet for creators. I can tell you from experience, it is very discouraging to work like crazy on a pitch for a series or graphic novel and know that if the handful of independent comics publishers out there all reject your project for any reason, it becomes a choice between self-publishing, giving it away for free, or starting over on a new pitch which may also go nowhere. The limited options make it risky for a creator to put time into any independent project. I think that any new avenue for getting an original comic story in front of an audience is a big plus for the entire industry, and I think what Adam and Eben are building with Macroverse has a very bright future.
What’s your best of advice for someone who wants to become an independent comic creator?
Adam: Just start creating something! Nothing trumps getting into action, whatever that may be.
Eben: It may sound cliche but for anyone who wants to create anything – you just have to do it. As a fan of Chris Hardwick and what he built with Nerdist (and now Id10t), I agree with what he often says, “Make a thing”. The ability to take an idea and make it real in the world has never been more attainable. Ultimately you just do it and than, as necessary you do it again and again until it’s just what you do.
Steven: Make sure it is what you want to do, and if it is, jump in without a life vest and do it. It is very much an uphill climb, but be patient and persistent. It will be worth it when you get there.
Eben: Thanks so much for giving us the opportunity to share about Macroverse. We’re very excited about it. We’ve got big plans and ambitions and we want to hear from readers and fans. We want to know what they like about it, what they don’t like about it, what they think we could do better or what would make it their favorite app. There’s a feedback link right in the sidebar within the app and the more feedback the better! We want to build this WITH fans not just for them.