Newsarama contacted MacPherson to discuss the rigors of producing a webcomic; the challenges of creating original genre content; and the latest developments in Sidewise.
Newsarama: Dwight, Sidewise went live as a regular series on Zuda this fall; for the sake of new readers, what's the story behind Sidewise?
Dwight L. MacPherson: That's correct Sidewise went live on October 8th and a new page will be posted every Thursday thereafter.SIDEWISE is the story of Adam Graham: a teen genius who's used his parents' time machine to visit Edwardian England. The only problem is that he's traveled "sidewise" into a parallel universe where Queen Victoria's brain is kept alive by the ingenuity of Nikola Tesla and the Queen's group of mad scientists called The Knights of Hanover. In this dystopian parallel world, the Queen has an army of deadly robots and a secret police called The Ministry of Compliance that is overseen by a sorcerer/entity called Moriarty who exiles anyone the Crown sees as a threat to Scotland. In SIDEWISE, Tesla has realized what he's done is wrong, so he equips a group of teens with super-science exosuits to remove the Queen, destroy her army, free England and place Prince Edward on the throne.
Nrama: What can readers expect to see in the first several installments of the series?
MacPherson: The first season establishes the conflict and the relationships between Tesla and Queen Victoria, and Tesla and Moriarty. It also fleshes out Tesla's plan to accomplish his coup d'état. Adam is not a major player in Season 1, but he is the superstar of Season 2 and beyond. Readers can expect to see a lot of action, explosions, conflict and dark magick in the first season.Nrama: Now that you've had a few months to relax and get organized for the launch of Sidewise, what sorts of advice would you give Zuda's future competitors?
MacPherson: Networking is the key. Utilize every social marketing tool on the internet. Contact comic news sites, your local newspapers and television stations and see if they will interview you. Do everything in your power to draw readers to your site. If it requires you to go door to door, do it, but don't rest on your laurels and expect to win the competition based upon the quality of your story and art. The one who brings the most readers to their strip will win, regardless of the caliber of your entry.
Nrama: Let's talk about your process with Igor Noronha; now that the two of you are in the thick of things together with Sidewise, how has the way the strip is organized changed? How does the Zuda office aid in the process?
MacPherson: It hasn't changed at all. Igor still sends me page sketches, I approve them and then he completes them. Zuda's staff sets a schedule for pages to be uploaded and edits my script for grammatical or punctuation errors. It's an entirely painless process.
Nrama: Is your approach to writing webcomics any different from your approach to writing regular print comics? Does the 4:3 aspect ratio alter the way you pace your stories?MacPherson: Oh, absolutely. When writing a webcomic, you want to give readers a reason to come back. In order to accomplish this, you need to include a hook in each page that intrigues readers and leaves them "hungry" for more. You don't need to have a cliffhanger each page, but you definitely want to pique readers' curiosity enough that they'll want to read the next page. It goes without saying that you want to intrigue readers in print comics so they want to turn the page, but with webcomics, I am much more aware of the need to hook readers so they come back when the next page is posted.
No, the 4:3 aspect ratio hasn't altered the pace or storytelling style in SIDEWISE. I've always tried to make my stories flow and have written comics with various panel counts. I think readers will agree that I have not modified or compromised my storytelling style due to Zuda's format. Each medium represents a specific set of limitations, but a good writer will always find a way to adapt and push the boundaries.
Nrama: How closely do you work with Igor on his approach to the characters and concepts? Do you prefer to allow the artists of your projects to explore the space in the concept or do you tend to have specific ideas envisioned for your projects?
MacPherson: I let Igor have an almost free reign when it comes to the artistic side of SIDEWISE. I send him links, character descriptions and write pretty dense panel descriptions, but the final character designs and page layouts are in his hands. Of course, each project is different in regards to the level of artistic freedom I will give the artist, but in this case, I've let Igor work virtually unfettered. I think it's paying off, because Igor is delivering some remarkable pages. I can't wait for readers to see the new pages!
Nrama: Sidewise features actual historical figures like Nikola Tesla; what sort of research have you done for the project? Or have you made this a purely fictional interpretation of a historical figure?MacPherson: SIDEWISE contains several historical figures. Of course, I've done a bit of research on each character, but the fun of creating a parallel universe story is that you can take these characters and add to and expand the myths surrounding them. For instance, history paints Tesla as a sort of scientific wizard. I expanded this idea and made him just that--and more. I am not limited by the constraints of history, so I can concentrate on having fun with the characters instead.
Nrama: What makes the Steampunk sub-genre of Science Fiction such a great vehicle for a all-ages project like Sidewise?
MacPherson: I was enamored with the works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne as a child, and am still enamored with their timeless stories. The Victorian era is such a romantic period, and the introduction of futuristic technology into that time really intrigued me as a child, young man and still intrigues me as an adult. Sadly, I don't see any books or graphic novels out there that approach a Wells or Verne sensibility for readers of all ages. These two imaginative authors proved that steampunk can be read and enjoyed by readers of any age, so I thought that I would use this fantastical genre to tell my story and perhaps draw some attention to the work of Wells and Verne in the process.
Nrama: What other projects are you working on currently?
MacPherson: I am currently working on a project with artist Chris DiBari (of Starship Troopers and Warriors) and another story with Juan Salcedo (of Zuda's Re-Evolution). I have several other projects in production, but unfortunately, I can't share the details at the moment. As soon as I can spill the beans, you'll be the first to know.
Nrama: Are there any Zuda comics that you read regularly? Which comics would you recommend to newcomers to the site? Which would you recommend to newcomers of comics altogether?
MacPherson: Oh, yes. I'm pretty busy, but I follow almost all of Zuda's ongoing series. Some of my favorites are Caanan Grall's Celadore, Michael Walton's Dual, Daniel Govar's Azure, Kevin Colden's I Rule the Night and David Gallaher's and Steve Ellis' High Moon. These are the first that come to mind, but there are many other fantastic webcomics on Zuda's site. I personally think Zuda has the strongest webcomic line-up on the internet. I would have no problem recommending High Moon, Azure or Celadore to comics newcomers. All three are fantastic reads with wonderful art. They're also excellent examples of the uniqueness and effectiveness of sequential literature.
Nrama: To close, Dwight, any last words regarding Sidewise? What do you think will be the biggest draw of your new series?
MacPherson: I'm looking forward to having readers see new pages every week. It's a witty and complex story that readers of all ages will be able to enjoy. Hold onto your top hats and tighten your goggles, we hope to take you on the ride of your life!Check out Sidewise for yourself right here at Zuda!