Meta-Cliffhangers

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I like cliffhangers. The more agonizing a good cliffhanger is, the more satisfying a good payoff is.

I always used to describe one of my favorite TV shows, The Shield, by saying that its cliffhanger payoffs worked so well because they were both utterly unexpected and — in hindsight, anyway—the most logical thing possible. They took your breath away.

Insert your own favorite show — Breaking Bad comes to mind — and you know what I mean.

I like creating cliffhangers, too. As a TV news producer working most recently in panel conversations, I loved when we crafted a moment in which the stakes reached a true, emotional peak… and then we broke for commercial. (I admit it, I have a sadistic streak.)

What I’m NOT crazy about are meta-cliffhangers. Like the end of this week’s installment of my series The Endling. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty classic cliffhanger. I stand behind its cliffhangerosity. But it’s also a meta-cliffhanger — specifically, it raises a question about the future of the Endling series. Because we’re taking…a break.

DUNT-DUNT-DUN!!!

That’s right, at the pinnacle of suspense in this week’s issue, you’re going to swipe to the next screen and discover a slate announcing that the next installment will appear on Thursday… January 30, 2014. Creating the meta-cliffhanger question of whether we’re REALLY coming back or just stalling for time publicly while behind the scenes we wither and die and play videogames.

***SPOILER ALERT***

The Endling will return on Thursday, January 30. Here’s what happened:

I don’t know what I’m doing.

Now, I’m sure anyone who hasn’t enjoyed The Endling so far will agree readily with that sentiment, but I’m referring in this case to my initial misunderstanding of the digital “swipe” formatting Mark Waid is pioneering here at Thrillbent. When I started writing The Endling, I was thinking of each swipe of the screen as a one- or two-click change for the artistic team.

I was wrong, but I didn’t realize that until the drawing started, which wasn’t until I had pretty much finished writing it. So, what were meant to be ten-“page” issues instead started off as follows:

Week 1: 28 screens
Week 2: 22 screens
Week 3: 25 screens
Week 4: 18 screens
Week 5: 50 screens
Week 6: 20 screens
Week 7: 20 screens
Week 8: 19 screens
Week 9: 19 screens
Week 10: 31 screens

Keep in mind that two screens equal one comic-book page. So, producing ten screens a week is the equivalent of drawing one comic-book page a day. And Cecilia Latella, our artist, is both penciling AND inking.

We started with a little bit of a buffer, but my overloaded scripts quickly used it up and we’re now at a point where we simply won’t be able to continue on a weekly basis any more. Until January 30. At that point, knowing what we do now about how long it takes to illustrate MY OVERWRITTEN SCRIPTS, we will be able to resume a weekly pace for the remainder of the series.

We’re not missing one beat when it comes to working on bringing you this story. The entire series script is written. Cecilia’s finishing inking Chapter 21… the payoff to that cliffhanger in the last panel of 20.

We have much bigger cliffhangers in store after that, so please hang in there with us. If you’ve enjoyed where we’ve been so far, you’re going to love where we’re going. How can I be sure? Mark Waid is the only person besides me and Cecilia who’s read the script to the end. Here’s what he wrote to me afterward:

“Finished Endling again from start to finish and it’s just about the most damn compelling thing I’ve read in forever.”

I hope that sounds worth sticking around for — it certainly made ME happy when he said it. And in the meantime, tweet your complaints to me @JTLarsen; check out the extras in our collected editions at the Thrillbent store; sign up for emails from Thrillbent and Like The Endling’s Facebook page so we can remind you when it’s time for us to return, you can tell us what you think of the story so far and share your theories about what’s going to happen next.

The only thing I can promise WON’T happen is… no more meta-cliffhangers!

Sep 25, 2013 In: Comics

Extra! Extra! Extras in CITY OF THE DEAD

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City of the Dead— the two-part story teaming-up Ron Randall’s Trekker with my Johnny Zombie to fight, you guessed it, zombies— can be read for free here on Thrillbent. You can also purchase City of the Dead: The Entire Nightmare here as well, for $1.99. Next to nothing, really.

The thing is: it really is next to nothing. And who in their right mind would pay $1.99 for something they can get for free?

Everyone in their right mind, hopefully.

Two reasons:

1. Ron and I knocked ourselves out putting together extensive extras for The Entire Nightmare. Me, I love DVD-style extras. Specifically: I love a peek into the creative process. How did it all come together? What changed? Why did it change? What worked, in the creators’ opinions, and what didn’t? That’s the kind of extras we put together. Character sketches, thumbnails, unused panels, reworked panels, promotional material, and so much more. There’s a place where you can compare raw pencils with CLICK the inks with CLICK the colors. Another section uses some Thrillbent-style tricks to let me showcase in detail my single favorite panel. Ron talks about his art, his approaches, and his character Trekker. Colorists Jeremy Colwell and Grace Allison talk about their work and experiences. I talk far too much— but only because I wanted to get everything I could remember in there. You like to look behind the curtain? We rip the curtain off the stage. So there’s that reason.

2. Forget the extras. Forget that this story would be 22 pages in print, so at $1.99 it’s a steal. The only thing to remember is: if you like what we do, please support us. And the best way to support us is to buy our work. You buy our work, we pay our bills, we can do more work like this. You don’t buy our work, we don’t pay our bills, we can’t do more work like this. Pretty simple, really. And while I’m banging the drum for City of the Dead: The Entire Nightmare here, the same goes for The Eighth Seal or The Damnation of Charlie Wormwood or any other Thrillbent comic. This is what we want to do, but we can’t do it without your support. Bottom Line.

— Karl Kesel

Sep 06, 2013 In: Comics, Thrillbent News

Aw Yeah, The Other Shoe Drops

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Remember how I said that Monday’s announcement–that I’m now a comics retailer–was only part of the story? Here’s the rest of it:

Second Reveal sm

 l-r: Artie, Marc, Jason, Christy, some clown in custom Superman sneaks, Franco

Y’know who else owns a store? Franco Aureliani and Art Baltazar, a.k.a. Art and Franco, a.k.a. the Harvey- and Eisner-Award winning geniuses behind Aw Yeah Comics! (which you can get right here!), Tiny Titans, Itty Bitty Hellboy and many other fine all-ages comics series. I’ve been to their retail shop in Skokie, Aw Yeah Comics!, several times and I love it. Clean, well-stocked, well-organized, super-consumer-friendly, run brilliantly by their business partner Marc Hammond. One of the best-known and most well-respected shops in the USA. Known these guys forever, have adored them just as long. All three are on the short list of people I’d take a kryptonite bullet for.

When Jason, Christy and I opened our new Alter Ego location a few weeks ago, we asked Marc and Franco to come down for the day and give us their two cents about the way we’d set it up and the way it was run. (We asked Art, too, but one of us had to work that day.) Happily, the boys were really impressed. So much so, in fact, that they asked–quite seriously, money on the table–to invest in our store. Very flattering.

We counter-offered:

How about we make it a true partnership and invest in each others’ store?

I think Franco’s head exploded, but in a good way. Marc pointed out that, to our knowledge, no one had ever done anything quite like this before in the comics retail community. Some people are dissuaded by the phrase “no one has done this before,” of course, but to the six of us, that’s just fuel on the fire. A sizeable share of our store in exchange for an equal share of their store. A six-way partnership between some of the most prominent and vocal figures in the industry. The Image Comics of Brick-and-Mortar.

We couldn’t wait to get the papers drawn up.

We’ll still maintain our individual identities–one store isn’t being absorbed by the other–but we can pool our resources in unique ways. We can design an Aw Yeah Comics!-branded, kid-friendly “boutique” into Alter Ego that mirrors the Skokie setup. Conversely, we can build more Thrillbent promotion and outreach into the Aw Yeah Comics! storefront. We can meld print and digital in double the locations and strengthen both the stores and Thrillbent.

So now you know the rest of the story (true story!). The big news isn’t that Mark Waid now owns a comics store. It’s that Mark Waid, Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani own two comics stores…and counting.

I think that’s revolutionary. It’s pretty thrilling. Or, as Artie loves saying:

AW YEAH COMICS!

Next: Why Death-Marching Through The Monthly Order Catalogue Reinforces My Love For Digital.

Sep 05, 2013 In: Comics

Mark Waid, Comics Retailer

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“I bought a comics store.”

“Why? So you can burn it down?”

As some of you know, I’ve been living in the Muncie, Indiana area for a while now. Good people here. One of the best is my friend Jason Pierce, whose shop Alter Ego Comics has been my store of choice for some time. Alter Ego’s been pretty much a one-man operation forever; Jason’s been aching to expand, to move the storefront, to grow the store’s market and its community outreach…but while it’s always been a worthwhile enterprise, Jason could never stretch his time and resources enough to both run the store and evolve it.

Meanwhile, I–having to, on a daily basis, explain to most of the industry that championing digital comics with Thrillbent isn’t the same as “hating print”–had been thinking long and hard about what I’ve been preaching for a while, that print and digital can not only co-exist but feed one another for the overall health of the comics business. It sounds good to say, and I believe it–but with Thrillbent, I had the tools to actually prove only half that equation.

So I’ve put my money where my mouth is. Effective immediately, you can trust me when I say I want comics retailers to thrive, because now I am one. I said, I AM ONE. (I had to raise my voice there a little to drown out the screams of rage from anti-Thrillbent retailers like Phil Boyle. Hi, Phil!) Along with my partner in life and now in business, Christy Blanch, I’m logging inventory on Tuesdays and running the register on weekends and navigating the ordering process at our brand new location. This isn’t a vanity purchase, a symbolic gesture, or a silent partnership; Christy, Jason and I are each equal shareholders in Alter Ego Comics. I have skin in the game, and I’m eager to see what there is to learn about the only side of the industry I’ve never involved myself with.

How does this impact you? As with all things digital, what I learn as a retailer, I’ll pass on to you, here. Retailer Brian Hibbs writes a regular column called TILTING AT WINDMILLS; I am likely going to refer to my columns informally as NUKING WINDMILLS because, frankly, you would expect no less of me. I’m genuinely champing at the bit to, with your help, synthesize all this information now pouring through my unnaturally round head into some sort of Unified Theory of Comics. How best can digital comics advance the medium without kneecapping brick-and-mortar? How can physical storefronts best take advantage of the outreach digital provides? How will I ever stay ahead of my Daredevil, Hulk and Green Hornet deadlines? How many times a week will I have to promise Peter Krause that this week’s Insufferable really is “almost written”? This is going to be a hell of an adventure, and you’re along for the ride.

While you’re waiting for me to report in, there are a couple of things you can do for which I would be quite grateful:

First, please don’t leave this site without deep-diving into the Thrillbent catalog of free-to-read digital comics I’ve been personally curating for over a year now. Weekly, Peter Krause, Troy Peteri, Nolan Woodard and I bring you Insufferable, which asks the question, “What if your superhero sidekick grew up to be an asshole?”–and that’s not even the best of the bunch. Check out The Damnation of Charlie Wormwood. Prodigal. The Endling. The Eighth Seal. Moth City. Arcanum. And our many, many other exemplary offerings, which can be read here and purchased for a tiny sum as DRM-free PDFs here.

Second, if you’re in the Northeastern Indiana area, stop by the store. It’s at 111 E. Adams Street in downtown Muncie, and it is 1200 square feet of nifty. Even if you don’t want to buy anything, it’s probably worth stopping by just to see all the props and memorabilia I’ve brought from home. Who else do you know who has both a full-size Phantom Zone projector and a scale-model replica of the Batcave?

Lastly, come back to this blog Thursday for the other half of the announcement. “Wait,” you say, “the fact that Mark Waid, sworn enemy of print, now owns a comics store–wasn’t that the big news?  Isn’t that enough?”

 First Reveal

Not quite. It’s bigger than that, and Thrillbent’s reach is greater. There’s even more to the story.

Seeya Thursday.

 

Sep 02, 2013 In: Comics, Thrillbent News