Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Especially if you’re ruling over arms dealing empire based on a remote island off the coast of Asia and China is breathing down your throat. But that is the job of Moth City’s Governor McCaw, a hard-charging militaristic former oil tycoon evocative of Deadwood’s Al Swearengen that tries to maintain order as forces outside – and inside – conspire against him. It all comes to a tipping point when his chief scientist is murdered, and China begins amassing forces at his door.
Tim Gibson is the mastermind behind Moth City, a digital comic series that takes advantage of the digital medium for comics storytelling without turning it into half-baked animation. Gibson, who is a formerconceptual designer for the movie effects studio Weta Workshop, was recruited into Mark Waid’s Thrillbent digital publishing outfit earlier this year. The first season of Moth City is available free on Thrillbent.com as well as available on the Comixology app for a fee, and Gibson is back with a new season starting this Friday.
Newsarama: What can people look forward to with the second season of Moth City when it premieres this Friday?
Mark Waid: Ha! I'm loathe to accidentally spill any secrets, so I'll leave that to Tim. But I know what's coming and I'm entranced.
Tim Gibson: Well to catch people up, the first season shows us the intrigue of the oriental setting and period. There are a lot of players and factions, from the Nationalist army of China, to the underground Communist movement.
In the middle of this growing conflict Governor McCaw is attempting to build an arms dealing empire. I cheekily pitch it as Game of Thrones-y, if Game of Thrones was set in the 1930s, had Kung Fu, wasn’t written by George RR Martin and was more likely to conclude. I then normally say that Game of Thrones is better, but that’s not so good for press.
Anyway, with the Thrillbent relaunch, the second season ratchets up the tension between both opposition and allies, has more action and horror elements, and delves into the motivations and betrayals of McCaw’s daughter. McCaw is starting to piece together just how fractured his little empire is, and people are lining up for their piece of it.
Readers can read the whole first season (free) on Thrillbent to catch up, so if you’re interested there’s really no excuse.
Nrama: At the center of this is Governor McCaw’s assembly line cranking out bio-weapons. What do these bio-weapons do exactly?
Gibson: The bio-weapons do what most weapons are supposed to do, which is kill people. This being a story that delves into the horror and suspense genres there’s obviously going to be a little twist on that.
Let’s just say that there are only a few people on the island who know what they *really* do, but that starts to change pretty fast.
Nrama: Some might call Governor McCaw as a bad guy – how would you describe him?
Gibson: Oh, he’s definitely a bad guy. He’s a man who needs to control everything, a very manipulative fellow who holds his only daughter close to him in a very reprehensible way.
Like the series itself, he has a dash of dark humor about him – he says things that would just murder dinner party conversation. He is, in a nutshell, arrogant and unapologetic about it. I love and hate him, but he’s very compelling.
Readers will be pleased to know that he soon gets thoroughly challenged by Moth City’s other characters, from a down-on-his-luck killer, to his own daughter, to cold-faced Major Hong who is intent on the best interests of his Government, collateral damage be damned.
Nrama: You mention Major Hong, who leads the forces of China sitting at Moth City’s doorstep. What are they thinking after the events at the end of season one?
Gibson: The security of the missing bio-weapons becomes their major concern; the deal has gone bad and now it’s all about damage control. As Major Hong says, when the world’s largest military is a short step off your coast you better tread carefully. So the Nationalist Government of China is the outward threat to the citizens of Moth City, but there’s a danger brewing in their slums that’s of equal concern. The combination of those two things, and a control freak with a police force, is a dangerous concoction.
Nrama: Prior to Thrillbent you were already publishing Moth City on your own site – so what did Thrillbent provide that you couldn’t?
Gibson: Interviews on Newsarama? But seriously, Thrillbent is a great collective of creators, so it’s a place that anyone can go (including me) to check out what happening with digital comics and the new opportunities for storytelling that we have. There’s a lot to enjoy there, and for me, there’s also a lot to learn.
I’ve described my opportunity there as being an opening act for Mark Waid and co, which I think is pretty accurate. Me just gigging around the internet, offering something a little different.
Nrama: Mark, Moth City is one of the comics that didn’t originate at Thrillbent but was brought into the fold later on – why’d you reach out and seek to bring Tim Gibson’s series under your umbrella?
Gibson: Alex DeCampi brought it to my attention and I knew from the first few screens that this was exactly the sort of digital-storytelling creator I wanted to be associated with. His understanding of what the medium can do so dovetails with ours at Thrillbent that it was a natural fit.
Nrama: And how’s the first season been, republishing it via Thrillbent?
Gibson: It’s been great, the Thrillbent team is always a pleasure to deal with, and they’re not afraid to try new things, from scheduling, to selling downloads, to torrenting their own work. I think Moth City’s audience has been split a bit between my site and Mark’s, and the Comixology numbers have been really good, too.
I feel like they all help each other out, and aside from the nice brag factor of being there on Thrillbent among some of the best, it gives readers more opportunities to discover my work.
Nrama: Mark, as an outside observer here but someone who knows comics in and out, let me ask you about what he’s doing. I was amazed as much for Gibson’s first season for the story as well as the storytelling. As someone who does it for a living, what’s the secret to Tim’s magic here?
Waid: If I knew, I'd steal it and bury Tim's body. He's got a good ear for dialogue but knows when to let the pictures tell the story. And there's a confidence with which he delivers his tale that is hypnotizing.
Nrama: Why does this series excite you as a reader?
Waid: Again, it's the combination of the story itself and the way Tim tells it. I'm as much a fan of his techniques as I am of the narrative. His pacing, his layouts, the way he parses information out to the readers in ways that print couldn't do it as effectively--all these make me a fan.
Nrama: When people read digital comics they still try to imagine how it would work in print; but you’ve innovated some techniques that a simple cut-and-paste to a print book wouldn’t work. Was there any apprehension with you in doing comics specific for digital and how it might lessen its impact if it were to ever come into print?
Gibson: I don’t think so, and there are two reasons why.
First, it’s been really gratifying reading the reviews of Moth City as it moves into its later seasons. A lot of early reviews were very focused on the storytelling devices. Later reviews of Moth City Season Two and onwards have been more focused on the twists and turns of the story, the melding of genres and the development of the characters. So there’s a solid story there and people seem genuinely surprised with where Moth City is taking them, which pleases me to no end.
On a more practical note, I make two versions of every single Moth City page; one Digital and one Print Ready that mitigates those issues. Sometimes I compress those extra images or moments, pick the most powerful moment to focus on, or completely reimagine the panel layout.
I would be very excited to see Moth City in print, and I’m hoping the good critical response, the story, and the good showing on Comixology and Thrillbent will help that happen. Thrillbent has been a major step towards that goal, even as a pure digital showcase.
Nrama: Mark, what do you say? You ran a major publishing company, Boom! for some time, and now co-own a comics shop… so could you see Moth City working in print?
Waid: Absolutely! It would require some production work, and you might lose some of the more clever pacing bits, but a good story is a good story in any format.
Nrama: Is Moth City still estimated to run four seasons in total?
Gibson: Yeah. It grew from its original length, but it was necessary and has settled in at four seasons.
The arc finishes in a way that wraps it all up, but completely blows the door open at the same time. Depending on the level of support the series gets, and my own career path, there are exciting opportunities going forward. But this four season arc is written as a complete unit with a slow build and an action-packed conclusion.
Nrama: How far along are you in completing the entire Moth City epic?
Gibson: Season Four is in the illustration and lettering phase at the moment. Going full indie and juggling the website, digital formatting, Comixology and Thrillbent releases, back matter and all the comic duties is certainly a lot of work. But the response has been great so it is worth the late nights.