Welcome back to Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics, our continuing look at the best of the web! Today, we take a trip back in time for a fantasy story set in a prehistoric world of high adventure.Jordan Kotzebue’s Hominids (www.homindscomic.com) takes readers to a fantasy world where a group of prehistoric humans must fight for survival against the dangerous creatures around them…including other evolving humans, such as the nightmarish creatures called “Flesh-Eaters.” Colorful and action-packed, it’s earned a following from fantasy fans since its launch last year. We spoke with Kotzebue, who has a pretty cool day job at PopCap Games (makers of Bejeweled, Plants vs. Zombies) to talk about the origin of his species of webcomic.
Newsarama: Jordan, how did you initially conceive the idea for Hominids?
Jordan Kotzebue: Hominids is based on characters from my childhood. There is an amazing old-growth forest park in Bellingham, WA called Whatcom Falls by the house I grew up in. The park has miles of trails, amazing waterfalls and watering holes with massive cliffs we’d jump off. My childhood friend Luke Barton and I would run around the park acting like wild native boys. Then we would go back home and draw our adventures.
After moving away I kept drawing them and was always thinking about this world but never really planned to do anything with them. I post all those old drawings at my site under the ‘Blog’ section.
At that point, I was really into learning about human evolution, and all the recent archeological findings on Neanderthals I found really amazing. I thought how cool it would be if our heroes were Neanderthals and everything was told from their perspective. The story started to piece together from there.Nrama: Why did you decide to do the project online?
Kotzebue: I spent a lot of years playing the game of trying to get work with the major publishing companies. I had more success getting into the gaming industry – that’s my full-time gig – and that took up most my time.
I first did a Hominids story when my longtime art director and friend, Dev Madan of Sly Cooper and Young Heroes in Love fame, got all the artists at PopCap Games, where I work, together and we did an anthology book called Monsterpedia. This was my chance to get the ball rolling on a Hominids story.
From there I just wanted to keep going and see if I could actually do a full issue.
My friend Lynn Hogan already had a webcomic called Prydwen and she showed me how to put together a comic on the web. The idea of posting all my work online sounded really appealing.
The webcomic world is an interesting community where people really seem to support each other and give great feedback. You can really grow a dedicated fan base where the gap between creator and audience shrinks considerably. Not to mention, you can sell your books at your site and get 100% of the return, instead getting a small percentage going through a publisher and Diamond.
It’s also a place where creators really want to see each other succeed. It’s not competitive at all. There’s an understanding there that if you’re successful, they’re successful. This really feels like the next generation of indie comics.Nrama: Do you have a favorite character in the tribe to write/draw, and if so, which one?
Kotzebue: Keyli, the main Neanderthal boy, has always held a special place in my heart. He’s the first character I created and was the one I always pretended to play growing up. However Sno, the albino Neanderthal girl, I feel is the standout character in the story.
I love writing her scenes. I feel like there is a lot going on in her head even when she says very little. She sticks out like a sore thumb which makes her vulnerable physically and mentally. It forces her to stay tough and be more aware of her surroundings--much more so than anyone else.
Nrama: What sort of research did you have to do for the strip?
Kotzebue: It may not seem like it at first since this is a fantasy world, but I did a ton of research before starting this series. Each species is based on real hominids that lived at one point or another in the real world. For example, the Flesh-Eaters that our characters are fighting right now are a species called the Denisovans. All scientists have found is a finger, but through DNA they know it’s a different species and that we have 4% of their DNA in us.
The characters called the “Root Dwellers” (who fought Keyli and Sno at the beginning of Chapter 1) are based on Homo Floresiensis, a hobbit-sized species that was discovered in Indonesia.As for the Neanderthal, who call themselves “Tree Dwellers”, a lot of their characteristics are based on research that I’ve read. Their Popeye-like forearms are based on fairly recent findings. Some of them have red hair, which has also been found to be true in the real world. A lot of the research helped dictate the direction the story will go in as well...but I can’t talk about that yet.
Having said that, the fortunate part of dealing with prehistoric creatures is that because we know so little about them, there is a ton of room to play. We don’t know how they interacted with each other, how they talked, what they believed, etc. In the story I really want their culture to feel completely different from the humans they go up against. So, the setting, culture, and scenario is all very much a fantasy world.
Nrama: Not to get prurient, but there's a lot of topless women in the strip, a historically-accurate detail that might put some readers off. Why did you go this route, and what overall audience would you say is an appropriate age range for this strip?Kotzebue: I spent a lot of time thinking about this issue. There were a lot of reasons for me to go this route and I felt they outweighed the reasons not to. First, the story takes place in a pre-Judeo-Christian world, so the idea of ‘Original Sin’ is non-existent within the story. I did want the cultures between the “Tree Dwellers” and the humans (called “Mountain Dwellers” in the book) to be very different. It was important to have all the characters who were “Tree Dwellers” to dress equally. The men are just as bare as the women. When we meet more “Mountain Dwellers”, their culture will be very different.
On a personal note, I don’t really believe in self-censorship. We’re being conditioned do this in every aspect of our culture these days and I don’t think we need to. The internet allows us to be free of censorship and ratings. Nothing’s holding us back...yet.
I feel like the majority of us have outgrown this kind of puritanical outlook on the world. Nudity in and of itself isn’t offensive. I have a hard time seeing how a woman’s nipple is bad but a man’s is okay. Seems a bit sexiest on a mass scale. Women are objectified all the time while still being fully clothed. That’s way more offensive to me.
I make a point in the story to not objectify the women even though they are topless. I want them to be seen as strong characters that can hold their own to any male counterpart.
The age range is probably appropriate for a young adult audience. I think if you’re old enough to read The Hunger Games or Twilight you’re old enough for this story. People get over the nudity quicker than you’d expect. Of all the people who’ve read it, I’ve only had one reader say they couldn’t read it due to the nudity. Later, they came back and said they got over it because they loved the story.
I actually think my comic is a good example of how nudity can work in the industry.Nrama: How long do you ultimately see the storyline running?
Kotzebue: This first book is going to run six chapters, and then I’m going to do a Book Two which will more than likely be six chapters as well. After that, I might have one more book in me, but we’ll see about that. Ideally I’m hoping to have book 1 done by next year but it may run a little longer then that.
Nrama: What were some of the biggest influences on the strip? I'm wondering if Kirby's The Eternals, or the book Chariots of the Gods played a major role...
Kotzebue: I definitely love Kirby. Bruce Timm as well, who of course has a lot of Kirby influence-- I grew up on Batman: The Animated Series. That’s when I realized cartoons could actually be a respectable form of storytelling.
I’ve also worked with my older brother Travis in the game and comic industry and he’s had a massive influence on me.
As I’ve gotten older I really love reading about science and the universe. Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, although dated, really got me into researching about cosmology and evolution. I hardly understand it but I think it’s awesome.Nrama: Tell us about some of your work at PopCap, and how that work might have influenced the style of Hominids.
Kotzebue: I’m an illustrator and animator at PopCap. It’s a company where you have to wear a lot of hats. So I really had to hone in on my design skills, backgrounds and tighten up my work. PopCap is incredibly supportive of artists working on their own projects. They really encouraged us to work on the Monsterpedia book. It is clear all the employees within the company really support each other.
Nrama: For that matter, could you ever see Hominids becoming a film or video game?
Kotzebue: No doubt. I kind of think anyone who says ‘no’ is kidding themselves, unless you’re Alan Moore. If you’re approached with an opportunity like that, how can you not entertain it, at the very least? The important thing for me is to not make it the end goal, which seems to be happening frequently in comics today.
That being said...my dream would be for it to be an animated series on HBO with Avatar: The Last Airbender’s co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko helming the project. How awesome would that be!?! You can see why I need to put these things out of my head.Nrama: What opportunities do you feel have been afforded by such new delivery systems as the iPad and smartphones, and what do you feel both individual creators and larger companies can do to take advantage of these opportunities?
Kotzebue: I get most of my webcomic reading done on my iPad. It’s a game changer for sure. When it comes to comics I think there’s a lot of opportunity to be creative there that’s barely been touched yet. We’ll be able to do a lot more than just make digital comics or motion comics. You can pretty much do anything.
Daniel Lieske’s Wormworld Saga has an awesome iPad app which is perfect for his infinite canvas. You can press a button and all the text goes away so you can enjoy just the art. Hit another button and the whole thing switches to thumbnail mode. That kind of thinking will really push this industry forward.
That’s what inspired me to set up my website the way it is, with the map in the background and the thumbnails of each page following the path of the story. I had thought about doing the basic Comicpress layout but it’s the internet. You can do anything! Maybe it won't work, but you gotta go for it, because maybe it will.
I think its immediate impact is that independent creators have more opportunity than ever to have their original ideas to get noticed and be potentially successful. And it’s an opportunity for bigger companies to take notice of something they might have overlooked in the past.Nrama: What trials are coming up for our Hominid crew?
Kotzebue: Right now, our heroes are being hunted by bloodthirsty Flesh-Eaters. I’ll just say these are the happy times. Things are good right now, but they’re going to get much much harder. Icari, the young human, is going to continue his quest and take some of his new friends with him.
The mountain that the humans live on is going to play a prominent part in the second half of the book. Before all that, though, our characters will get a little R&R and you’ll see where the Neanderthals live. Happy times first, then the stakes are gonna be raised.
Nrama: What other comics/creators are you currently enjoying, online and off?
Kotzebue: Online, the first webcomic I was introduced to was Tracy Butler’s Lackadaisy. That’s when I realized this webcomic business was no joke. There are some talented folks out there! I love Ethan Nicole’s work and sense of humor. Jason Brubaker’s reMind and Travis Hanson’s The Bean are awesome. Not only are their books great, but the creators themselves are a wealth of knowledge, and are well worth meeting at conventions. And make sure to check out Jason’s Making Comics website and podcast.I also love Lora Innes and Chris Oatley’s Paper Wings site. All these guys have made available a wealth of really helpful information that any creator should check out. I know Matt Inman, and his comic Oatmeal is just a powerhouse of funny.
I’ve been “plugged in” for awhile so these days it’s pretty rare that I buy a comic. But I really love Juanjo Guarnido’s work on Blacksad. Nate Simpson’s Nonplayer blows me away everytime I flip through it. I just got the compendium editions of both The Walking Dead and Invincible, so I’ve been enjoying those. I love Sean Murphy’s work on Joe the Barbarian and really liked Off Road.
Nrama: What's next for you?Kotzebue: This project takes up most my time. Besides Hominids and my day job, I work on spending time with my lovely and talented wife, who’s incredibly patient and supportive of my work. I do have another comic project in the works but I probably won’t get to that until I’m at least into Book 2 of Hominids. I’m also trying to help promote my brother Travis’s super secret awesome project. He blogs about it at SkullBabyLand.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Kotzebue: I’m on The Facebook, that Twitter thing and Tumblr. Come follow! Also, I have a pretty good list of webcomics at my links page. I know I didn’t get to mention everyone but they are all really great reads, so check those out.
Travel back to the age of the Hominids every Tuesday at www.hominidscomic.com.
Next: It’s high adventure with the Eisner-nominated Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant! And later: Feel Afraid, Sarah and the Seed, the comics of Dylan Meconis and many more as Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics continues!