It’s time once again for Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics, where we take a look at some of our favorite comics online – from long-running favorites to new series worth your time.
We have a full plate of great comics this time out – and be sure to check out our archives!This time out, we’re starting with an all-ages tale of a ninja dinosaur…called, naturally, Ninjasaur (www.ninjasaur.com). He is a dinosaur who is a ninja (as opposed to a ninja who is a dinosaur, an important distinction). Ninjasaur occasionally fights bad dudes like Professor Deadbones, or dead robot luchadors, and if you think all that sounds crazy, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
We got up with Ninjasaur’s creator, Jason Horn, to talk about the origins of his strip, doing comics online, and the recently-released Ninjasaur app (available at iTunes App Store for 99 cents), which allows readers to see the process behind a 26-page Ninjasaur story and play a unique game where you ninja-star evil time travelers. Yes, there is literally something for everyone in here.
Newsarama: Jason, how did you initially get the idea for Ninjasaur?
Jason Horn: In 2006 I had only self-published a few stand alone mini-comics and I was looking for a comic that I could continue as a series. At FLUKE, a small press show in Athens, I came up with the title and later turned it into a webcomic about a sarcastic dinosaur ninja.
It started with short stand-alone stories, but now has more of a continuing story that is exploring the strange world Ninjasaur lives in. Every week there’s a new part of the story up at Ninjasaur.com.
Nrama: How do you feel the strip has evolved since you first started it?Horn: The first Ninjasaur stories were very short battles with random, silly bad guys. That’s still a format I occasionally use but after years of stories, a larger narrative began to take shape. I’m now paying off all the little seeds that were, at least originally, unintentionally planted.
The art has evolved dramatically. I barely knew what I was doing at first. I’ve always had a very cartoony style, but my art was very immature and basic that first year or two. I still keep things cartoony and clear, but now I utilize way more backgrounds and visually-interesting panels.
And now that I’m about to finish up the Ninjasaur app, it’s really clear to me how far it’s come. I’m about to release an app that features an entire issue and a mini-game.
Nrama: What are some of the biggest challenges of doing an all-ages comic, and what do you feel is important about creating work that can appeal to children and adults alike?
Horn: I don’t really feel any specific challenges or limitations in creating all-ages content. It’s always what I’ve been most interested in. Even though I read all types of stories, usually I only create material that anyone could pick up and read. That was always one of my goals.
I’ve seen little kids that can barely read go crazy over Ninjasaur. And just because they might not pick up every storyline nuance, I know they’ll enjoy it just as much as the thirty-year-olds that pick it up.
I try to create each story like a Pixar film. Everyone can enjoy it on a different level.Nrama: What have you learned from your Kickstarter campaigns, and what do you feel are the biggest advantages and disadvantages of the system?
Horn: Kickstarter is great. The Internet has allowed all kinds of artists to cut out the middleman and connect straight to our fans. The disadvantages of that is that the middleman does a lot of work that artists will now have to take time to do. Labeling and stuffing envelopes and dealing with a printer that binds your books backwards are things that I have to deal with, instead of having a publisher to do them for me.
Personally, I really like it because I’m a perfectionist that gets to oversee every aspect of production, but it takes way too much of my time.
I did two Kickstarters this year, one for a Ninjasaur trade paperback and one for a prose novel titled Kathryn the Chrononaut. Next year I might not have the time for a Kickstarter. Having said that, I kind of still have plans to maybe do one. It’s such a great experience.
Nrama: For that matter, what have you learned doing a prose story, as opposed to sequential material?
Horn: Prose is time consuming. Sequential art is super time consuming as well but, man, writing prose is like a marathon that feels like it will never end. In a way it’s kind of nice to just be able to write a paragraph about what a character is feeling or thinking but honestly, I’d rather convey that with one drawing.
It’s harder sometimes to communicate everything with just one expression in just one panel – especially when your character is a dinosaur that wears a mask – but for me, its way easier.Nrama: Describe the inherent individual appeals of dinosaurs and ninjas, and why their mad skillz so perfectly compliment one another in Ninjasaur form.
Horn: Dinosaurs are cool because they were essentially monsters that actually existed. We always tell kids that monsters aren’t real…but, by the way, there used to be these giant meat-eating monster lizards that ruled the Earth. They’re a crazy, frightening fiction that gets to be true.
And it’s almost the same for ninjas. Ninjas were these great warriors that used to exist. They have all kinds of crazy skills that almost make them super heroes. But they were real. They’ve been fictionalized a bit here and there, but there were ninjas. That’s a thing that happened.
And combining something that cool with dinosaurs was a moment of awesomeness that will save the world. For real, in an upcoming storyline, we’ll see how the moment I created Ninjasaur actually saved the real world.Nrama: Darn it, when will we see Chester, the Ghost in the Library, again?!
Horn: Chester is on his way. He’ll pop up again at the end of the current webcomic storyline, “In the Hours of Forever.” We’ll even see where he lives. He is one of the protectors of the seven ancient objects that will determine the course of Ninjasaur’s future.
Chester has something Moonwell, the rhino guy that’s been testing Ninjasaur, needs to save the world. Chester will play a big roll in getting Ninjasaur where he needs to be so that he can save their story. And we’ll actually see another of the artifact protectors in the next story, “Ninjasaur Doesn’t Exist!”
Nrama: And will Professor Deadbones ever make a comeback?
Horn: Professor Deadbones will play a big part in Ninjasaurs future…and his past! Since time travel has been introduced with Deadbones’ time machine gun, things are about to get crazy. As if a story starring a dinosaur ninja needed to be crazier. I’m telling one big story that is composed of five smaller stories, or five issues, I guess.
This started with Ninjasaur, “In the Hours of Forever.” Toward the fourth part of this big story, Professor Deadbones’ origin will intertwine with Ninjasaur’s origin. We’ll get to find out just what happen to the poor Professor’s face.
Nrama: What's comin' on up for Ninjasaur?
Horn: As I mentioned before, the Ninjasaur app is out. My friend, Ben Morrison, and I worked on it for over a year. It features the complete “Ninjasaur vs Professor Deadbones” issue. And when you’re done reading the comic, the story continues in an in-continuity game. You will be Ninjasaur fighting bad guys from throughout time. All the art is by me. Every painstaking bit of it.
And I’m working on a few Ninjasaur-related things that I probably can’t talk about yet. I’m writing a story now that will hopefully be making its way to a lot more eyeballs. Can’t wait to share that, but it’s still in the development stage.
Nrama: Combine two other things as awesome as ninjas and dinosaurs. Go!Horn: How’s about an owl and an alligator. Owligator! Actually, I think I’ll use that in a future story. “Ninjasaur vs. the Owligators.”
Nrama: Something I've been asking everyone in this series -- what opportunities do you feel have opened up to individual creators and larger companies as a result of new delivery systems such as iPads and smartphones, and what can creators and companies do to take better advantage of these opportunities?
Horn: My app co-creator Ben buys every new Apple product the day it comes out. Once I saw his iPad, I knew that it would be the future of comics. Like it or not, that’s the direction we’re taking.
Every other entertainment medium is – or has already – headed toward mobile devices, and I assure you, comics are no different. Don’t get me wrong, there will still be print comics. Thank goodness, because I still love them. But mobile devices are the medium’s future.
Just like webcomics did a decade ago, this new avenue of distribution brings comics to a new level of democratization. We all have a say in getting our work out there. Granted, not everyone has a best friend that is an app developer like I do, but no matter what, comic books on mobile devices is a good thing for everybody.
But to stand out in the crowded app world, you have to do something new. Something special. And I feel like that’s what we’ve done with the Ninjasaur app.
Having the story continue into the game is only one part of how we tried to do something different. The comic reader itself is something that I’m really pretty proud of. It allows you to swipe down any page and see the various stages of the art process. So the full-colored page fades into black and white, and then into my pencils. And you can read the entire story in any art stage. I’ve been showing it off at conventions this year, and I’ve gotten some pretty great feedback.
Nrama: What other comics and creators are you currently enjoying, online and off?Horn: Since my wife and I just had our first child early this year, I haven’t been able to read much. But I really enjoy the Adventure Time comic. I met some of the creators at HeroesCon this year, and the work they’re doing is just great.
Being a creator means that I have a lot of friends that are constantly putting out work that I want to keep up with, so I’m always reading my friends’ work. And I love that Mark Waid is pushing digital comics forward with Thrillbent. I’ve loved Mark’s work for years, so to see how he’s embraced the medium’s future is just so encouraging.
Nrama: What's next for you?
Horn: We’re submitting the Ninjasaur app to Apple now so I’ll be dealing with that. And I just finished the next chapter to Gruff, my serialized graphic novel continuation of the Billy Goats Gruff folktale. I might be putting out a collection of the first six chapters of that story next year.
And I just started doing finished pencils on the next Ninjasaur story. It’s nuts. Ninjasaur has to stop existing so that he can save the world – and not just his world, but our world as well. Trying to figure out how to draw exactly how Ninjasaur will stop existing inside his own story is keeping me busy.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Horn: Before I was a comics creator, I was always curious about anyone’s opinion on breaking into comics.
So I will give my advice on the subject: Just make comics. It’s as simple as that. Make comics and go to conventions. Even if they’re bad comics, just make better ones next time. Make short bad comics until you’re making good long comics.
Next: Christian Ortiz proves war is hell in Golden Campaign! And coming up: KC Green, Wander, The Meek and much more!