This year, motion comics have gone from interesting curiosity to a major new initiative in the comics world. Halfway between comics and animation without being either, motion comics like Spider-Woman, Watchmen, and Astonishing X-Men have drawn in both the comics fan and casual readers. And the newest entry into the burgeoning medium of motion comics features comic artist Tomm Coker and up-and-coming music sensation Lights.
Lights Presents Audio Quest is a motion comic being published online at MTV.com, and features an illustrated and animated version of the musician Lights in a interstellar expedition to reclaim the music that was robbed from her homeworld. Think of it as one part Flash Gordon and one part Phonogram (and maybe some Rock N Rule if you remember that), and you've got the idea. Four episodes have been released so far (Episode 1, 2, 3 and 4).
Lights is a Canadian-born singer-songwriter best known for her synthpop music. The cover for her most recent album, "The Listening", was described by the musician as being influenced partily by Watchmen.
Tomm Coker is well-known in comics circles for work he's done on all corners of the comics world, but most recently he's done the Daredevil: Noir miniseries as well as covers for the new Strange title. Although this is Coker's first motion comic, he's adept at film – having directed the 2007 live-action feature film Catacombs as well as various short films. This new motion comics is an intersect of his talents, and we talked to him by email to find out more about the project.
Newsarama: Describe the story of Audio Quest for us, Tomm.
Tomm Coker: Audio Quest is the story of Capt. Lights. Her home planet is Audioran where people are devoted to the collecting and cataloguing of every sound in the universe. They use these sounds to create an interstellar music of peace and hope. But one day the evil Lotar, who wants to rule the galaxy through silent despair, shows up and destroys the planet.
Capt. Lights and the few surviving Audiophiles are forced to scatter throughout the cosmos – trying to rebuild the lost sound library and thwart Lotar’s evil scheme.
If that description doesn’t make it clear we’re trying to create a fairly tongue and cheek sci-fi world – drawing heavily on influences such as Star Wars, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Wonder Woman etc. It can get pretty silly at times but that’s the point.
Nrama: How would you describe the collaboration with the musician Lights on this project?
Coker: She’s been great. We talked a lot in the beginning about what she was looking for and the kind of things she’s into – World of Warcraft, cartoons, comics – We also worked with the label to make sure we satisfied their concerns. Then Daniel Freedman and I came up with all these goofy ideas and some sketches and there was more input from Lights – she has a ray gun tattooed on her hip and wanted us to make sure the ray gun Capt. Lights carries was a match – stuff like that.
Since then it’s just been full steam ahead. The entire experience has been a blast.
I should mention Liz Lewis at Warner Bros. Records and Joe Cuello at MTV – the two of them are largely responsible for getting this thing up an running – and have championed what Daniel and I are doing since the beginning.
Nrama: This isn’t your first time doing film – you’ve done several short films as well as the full-length feature Catacombs. How did you get involved in this project, Tomm?
Coker: My close friend C.P. Smith was working on some motion comics for a video game called F.E.A.R. 2 and asked if I wanted to give a hand. I ended up drawing a few scenes and thought the medium’s potential was pretty amazing.
A few weeks later I was having dinner with another friend, Joe Cuello, who worked at MTV and told him about the motion comic process and how we were considering ways of using the platform to launch original content. He mentioned that MTV had been looking into similar ideas and asked me to send him a link to the F.E.A.R. 2 work.
After that things moved fast. Within a few weeks we met with WB Records to discuss Lights and how to create a motion comic series based on her. Maybe a month later we were sitting down with Lights to talk story. The rest is pretty obvious.
Nrama: You’re not working alone—Daniel Freedman is onboard to. What’s his role in this project?
Coker Daniel and I have been writing partners (as well as studio mates) since Catacombs. He and I created the Lights world and story together from concept to finished product. We co-write all the scripts, I draw the pictures and Daniel animates them in After-Effects.
Daniel also colors all the comic work I do.
Nrama: Motion comics seem like a burgeoning field – how do you think the medium of motion comics is progressing, and what do you see it doing in the future?
Coker: I think the potential is pretty awesome. Right now it seems like people view the format as a way to take pre-existing material, such as a comic, and make it “move”.
I think that’s cool BUT short sighted. It’s the ability to sit down and create something totally new with very small budgets and very small work forces in a very short period of time that excites me.
Daniel and I are starting work on a few original short-form ideas to see how far we can push ourselves using these tools. The idea is to try and seamlessly integrate the traditional drawing with the film and 3D elements. If we can figure that out then I really think we’re on to something.
Nrama: Four episodes have been released so far – do you have more planned, and if so, when can people expect to see them?
Coker: The first four episodes were released on MTV, mtv.com, mtvmusic,com and Lights Myspace page. Daniel and I have are finishing a follow up series that consists of (6) additional episodes that continue the story of Capt. Lights and her adventures. We’ve also written “a choose your own adventure” type prequel that explains a little about where Capt. Lights comes from and how Lotar played a part in making her who she is.
At the moment we haven’t been told whether these will run on MTV or not. I’m sure when they’re ready Lights will let people know where to find them.