ACT-I-VATE at Politics & Prose

Here’s a confession: I don’t really read webcomics.

Sure, I kept up with Diesel Sweeties for a while, but mostly, I have a hard time keeping up with them (this shouldn’t really come as a surprise, honestly, if you know I have trouble following monthly comics. That’s once every four weeks. Do you really expect me to be able to remember to read something every day or every week?).

But after seeing some of the creators behind ACT-I-VATE last night at Politics & Prose, I think I better start.

Featuring founding member Dean Haspiel and creators Jim Dougan, Joe Infurnari, and Simon Fraser (right to left in the photo above) this really surprised me.

Haspiel is obviously awesome, and I liked his story of how ACT-I-VATE came about — he started by showing a photo of himself, all alone, working at his desk. You see, he said, making comics is lonely, and he found out that if he posted stuff to his LiveJournal (yay, LiveJournal!) people would respond. It began that just his friends were saying things, but soon, people he didn’t know were leaving comments too.

He saw that some of his creator friends were experiencing the same sort of thing. He thought they could join forces and therefore combine their respective fanbases.

ACT-I-VATE is a noncommercial enterprise — it exists, more or less, to just promote these creators’ work. Infurnari echoed this sentiment, saying he liked having a portfolio of his work online and that he could get feedback immediately. Fraser liked that he got control over his work — as primarily a creator for 2000 AD, he said he didn’t often get a lot of say what happens to his creations. (That was actually a point that was brought up many times by everyone — comics, especially at DC and Marvel, are work-for-hire. Creator-controlled works are the exception and not the rule.) He said he travels a lot and likes that he’s able to point people to the site when they ask him what he does.

DC local Dougan’s story was a little bit more of an interesting one. He’s a writer of comics and not an artist, so he’s had to find people to work with, and while the point wasn’t so much made, it was clear that the Internet makes it easier for him (Hyeondo Park, the artist of his ACT-I-VATE comic, Sam & Lilah, lives in Dallas).

Haspiel also told the story about how he encouraged Dougan & Park to submit Sam & Lilah to Zuda first, with the understanding it probably wouldn’t win (everyone seemed to have words of praise for Zuda, though, and everything I know about Zuda makes it seem like it’s a good deal). They joked about how after Sam & Lilah lost, they actually scooped the winner with their press release saying the comic was going to be on ACT-I-VATE.

While the event was for the ACT-I-VATE Primer, that seemed a little secondary to most of the discussion. They wanted to do the book because there’s still a print audience (although Haspiel talked about how that’s probably fading) and that there’s not necessarily a crossover between webcomics readers and print comics readers (I’m probably somewhat of an example of that). It was a good way to push people to the site that may have otherwise not known about it.

Then they read from their comics, accompanied by Dougan’s wife Rachel. This was, for the most part, hilarious and utterly charming. Fraser did voices and Rachel sometimes playfully stumbled over her parts (she said she hadn’t rehearsed). Haspiel called for audience participation when it came to sound effects. I’m all for this and I now demand that everyone does dramatic readings of their comics during panels. This was awesome.

The Q&A section was better than most, and allowed me to realize much too late that I was sitting behind Mike Rhode of ComicsDC. (I seriously didn’t make the connection until a little bit later, otherwise I probably would’ve said hi. So I’ll just say it here: Hi, Mike!)

It was a good presentation and I left an ACT-I-VATE fan. I foresee spending many, many hours on the site now.

11 thoughts on “ACT-I-VATE at Politics & Prose”

  1. Feeds are wonderful things for following webcomics that don’t update everyday. (Blogs too. I don’t drop by here on a regular basis, after all).

    Zuda’s all right if you insist on trying to do business with the Big 2. You sign away a ton of rights, but you get a paycheck up front if you get picked up. I have more interest in the fiction novel side of publishing, though, so the webcomic trades being published by Dark Horse and Image make much more sense to me from a creator’s rights perspective.

    I’ll go check out ACT-I-VATE now.

  2. I could be wrong, but I do think with Zuda, you eventually get your rights back (like after a few years or something). I don’t remember all the details, but it seemed like it was a decent deal, as long as the creators knew what they were getting into.

  3. Aw, you should have said hello! But I did the same thing – I think Mark Ruffin of the DC Comics Examiner was sitting in front of me, and I didn’t get around to asking if it was him. He may have been the guy who asked the IDW publishing question.

    Good report too. Now I don’t have to do one!


  4. So basically every D.C.-area comic book blogger was there? (I know there’s more than three of us, but we practically had a meet-up.)

    I kept thinking “Why do I know that name? Why do I know that name?” and I didn’t make the connection until I was leaving. It had been a long week.

  5. Hey, thanks for coming to the panel and for writing about it! I’m glad to have made a new ACT-I-VATE fan and hope that you enjoy your time perusing the hundreds (thousands?) of pages of free comics on the site.

    For the record, I think Zuda is a good deal for the creators, so long as they are fully aware of the contract details and the rights they’re exchanging for the compensation. As long as people read and understand the contracts (they’re posted right on the internet) all parties should know what they’re getting into. The page rate is well beyond what any other creators not working on Big 2 franchise characters would have access to. Hyeondo and I certainly wouldn’t have participated in the contest if we hadn’t known what we were getting into. I also greatly enjoyed the experience of working with the Zuda team and think Ron, Richard, Nika, Kwanza, and the rest are terrific. I would consider pitching something else in the future but am too busy right now to do it. The way that the HIGH MOON and other Zuda creators have been happy with the experience, now 2+ years into the relationship, says a lot about how they operate.

    Having said that, we’re not unhappy we lost. The “scooping” was intended to take full advantage of the publicity we’d received to date in promoting the comic for the contest, and it became pretty clear with a few days remaining that we weren’t going to end up in 1st place. But after working day and night for a month to get eyeballs and votes for our comic in the contest, we felt it was better to tell people where we’d be continuing the story while the interest in S&L was still (relatively) high.

    Also, Hyeondo and I have been able to take the comic in directions that we’re not 100% sure would have been approved by Zuda editorial. For one, we set one scene at a DC United match and included appearances by actual United players, all without getting prior permission. Instead of suing us into oblivion, DC United lived up to its reputation as a fan-centric organization and not only approved the use, but posted about us on the official blog and hooked us up with a Washington Post sports writer to talk about it, making SAM & LILAH probably the first webcomic ever to appear on p.2 of the Post Sports section. I’ve since talked to Ben Olsen and other players about the comic, and it’s been really cool. But if I had to guess, DC Comics’ legal department would probably have put the kibosh on that scene up front and asked us to use a fictional team and players. Which I can totally understand, but it was cool that we were able to do it the way we wanted in the first place, and kudos to United to taking it in the right spirit.

    @Mike R: the guy who asked the IDW question wasn’t Marc Ruffin (who came to the BP Vienna signing, incidentally) but local cartoonist and Glyph nominee Julian Lytle.

  6. I don’t know if Glen Weldon was there, but I think not since he missed me the LAST time at Darwyn Cooke’s talk. And that might not have been Ruffin, but I’ve seen the guy at a couple of comics events now, so suspicion mounts.

    Perhaps we should form a union? Or get an upside-down rocket for a clubhouse?

  7. Thanks for sharing some thoughts about Zuda. While I can see why some people may be a little cynical or suspicious about it, most creators who’ve done it (either winners or otherwise) seem pretty positive about the experience, and obviously some great comics have come out of it. I think it’s an interesting bridge between the indie comics world and the major publishers.

  8. Thanks for the correction, Jim. Lytle’s Ants has been getting a good bit of attention lately. And I can’t believe I missed the Post Sports story (although I never actually open that section, so I guess it’s not much of a surprise).

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