Dwight MacPherson has been building a name for himself for several years now. He’s produced comics for a number of companies: Slave Labor Graphics, Arcana, Devil’s Due, IDW, and Image—just to name a few. His project, The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allan Poo was nominated for both an Eagle and a Harvey Award. A few months ago, Newsarama discussed MacPherson’s work on American McGee’s Grimm from IDW—the second installment of the project hits shelves next Wednesday. Now, for the month of June, he’s competing to take his next big step as a creator—he’s one of Zuda Comics’ June competitors with his new all-ages steampunk webcomic, Sidewise.
For readers not familiar with Zuda Comics—it’s DC Comics webcomic site. Zuda and DC are dedicated to exploring the electronic frontier of webcomics and injecting healthy dose of competition to boot. Basically, Zuda selects ten submissions that compete against one another for a chance at contracted publication on Zuda’s website. Some of Zuda’s most popular projects like Bayou and High Moon have even been selected for print this year.
Newsarama sat down with MacPherson to talk about Sidewise and to discuss his feelings on the burgeoning digital medium for comics and graphic novels.
Newsarama: You've been establishing yourself in the independent comic market for quite a while and now you're project, Sidewise, is appearing in June's competition over at Zuda; as a creator, what's the big appeal of having a web comic as well?
Dwight MacPherson: The "big appeal" of utilizing webcomics is that you have the golden opportunity to build a strong fan base before your book is released. In today's market, many new creators—and established creators as well—lack the savvy to market their books prior to their release dates. This results in poor pre-order numbers, cancellations and false starts. By presenting your work on the internet beforehand, you can establish a fan base, get the word out to the masses and lessen the possibility of having your book cancelled before it even hits the presses. You can never eliminate the possibility of a poor performance, but historically speaking, books that have made the jump from webcomic to printed comic book have done exceptionally well in comparison to new books by unknown or relatively-unknown creators. Not to be a prophet of doom or anything, but I think the days of unknown creators publishing creator-owned books with major publishers is coming to an end.
NRAMA: Let's talk a little bit about Sidewise; where did you come up with the concept? What's the story about?
DM: I've been a fan of the Steampunk genre for some time. I just didn't know it. I grew up reading H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Michael Moorcock's A Nomad of the Time Streams series and Jeter's Morlock Night. I also loved the Wild, Wild West television series. I wasn't aware that all these things were called "Steampunk" until the mid-nineties.
Anyway, I mentioned the term "Steampunk" to my 13-year-old son [Clayton] about a year ago and he had no clue what I was talking about. So, rather than having him read The Anubis Gate or Whitechapel Gods, I decided to create something that was age appropriate to show him what the genre was all about and what makes it so special. The result was Sidewise.
Sidewise is the story of a 15-year-old genius named Adam Graham who uses his parents' (both world-renowned scientists) time device to travel back to 1902 London to conduct some firsthand research for a college paper. Unfortunately for Adam, he not only travels back in time, but also "sidewise" into a parallel universe where Queen Victoria's preserved brain rules England as a tyrant. Kept alive by a group of science-sorcerers, the Queen has established a police state patrolled by steam-powered robots, dirigibles and a ruthless state police. Nikola Tesla—the architect of the Queen's life support system and robot army—has decided to rebel against Victoria's brain and restore the kingdom by leading a group of children [whom Adam names "SteampunX"] with Tesla-designed exo-suits.
NRAMA: Is steampunk a genre with a wealth of potential that's still untapped? Or is it more a visual genre that allows for a variation of stories of all kinds?
DM: The only limitation to the genre—in my estimation—is the imagination of the author. From television shows like Wild,Wild West to manga like Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis to Katsuhiro Ōtomo's anime Steamboy, to comics like Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and films like Pitof's Vidocq we can see that the genre is almost limitless with possibilities.
NRAMA: How has your process changed in the production of a web comic versus a comic made for print?
DM: With the exception of Zuda's page dimensions, it's the same process. You know: I write it, my wonderful partner Igor Noronha creates character sketches—and we go from there producing sequential pages and lettering them. The only difference is that Lord Tesla must approve the script before Igor sees it. He is such a stickler.
NRAMA: Tell readers a little bit about your partner on the project, Igor…
DM: Igor and I met and became friends through the Image forum and have been in contact ever since. He's a busy guy, but he can produce at a moment's notice. Igor's energetic, professional, funny and a joy to work with. Oh, yeah... and I think he's a robot.
NRAMA: In the past, you've been very outspoken in regards to the effects of the economy on the print market? Is this your way of putting your money where you mouth is and leading by example?
DM: That would be called an understatement. (laughs)
Yes, this is my way of putting my money where my mouth is. With the state of the economy, creators and small publishers are going to have to rethink their strategies to survive. With Zuda, DC is leading the way to the future of the comics industry. Marvel has realized this change is coming and invested $10 million dollars in web development. What shocks me is that many creators and small publishers simply don't get it. In fact, many have taken the opportunity to tell me just how wrong I am. As comic readership declines, Diamond continues to raise sales thresholds, small publishers fold and printers fail (Quebecor's in trouble—aren't they?), perhaps that will wake them up. Then again, most of this stuff is already happening and they still don't get it. The direct market is a house of cards that could be easily toppled. I hope it doesn't happen, but it would be prudent for creators to be proactive and explore their other options before they're forced to.
NRAMA: What are some of the challenges you're facing by competing with other creators? What sort of lengths have you gone to show Sidewise to viewers?
DM: Well, it's the same kind of challenges creators face in the current comic industry; raising awareness, getting people to stand behind your project and creating a fan base. This is all stuff I've been doing since I published my first comic book. I have my degree in marketing from the School of Hard Knocks.
Thus far, we have created a Facebook group for Sidewise with original production art, sent out bulletins through Myspace, Facebook and tweets on Twitter. We also have a few interviews set up and some other super cool stuff in the works. It's gonna be a long month, so we're pacing ourselves.
NRAMA: Do you read a lot of the comics published by Zuda? Do you have any favorites?
DM: I read and enjoy quite a few of them, yes. Some of my favorites are David Gallaher's and Steve Ellis' "High Moon," Gus Higuera's and Juan Salcedo's "Re-Evolution," Kevin Colden's "I Rule the Night" and Peter and Robert Timony's "The Night Owls."
NRAMA: What other sorts of projects are you working on currently? Are there any new projects on the horizon?
DM: I currently have several projects in production covering a wide spectrum of genres. Sadly, I'm not at liberty to discuss them right now. I'm sure you'll be the first to know when I'm allowed to spill the beans.
NRAMA: What are your plans for convention season?
DM: Sadly, I am so busy that I will not be able to attend any conventions this year. I plan to attend as many conventions as I possibly can next year, but my appearances will be dependent upon what my workload looks like.
NRAMA: Before we go, what would you like to tell readers about Sidewise and this month’s competition at Zuda?
DM: The Sidewise universe is a wondrous place. We'll only be able to share this rich, exciting story with reader if we win the competition. So please, head over to zudacomics.com, read the strip and give us your vote. And—if you really enjoy Sidewise—let all your friends know about it!