Welcome back to Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics, our continuing look at the best comics online.
Today, we’re taking a look at a webcomic that’s barely a month old…but has already earned massive raves from the likes of Scott McCloud and BoingBoing.net. German artist Daniel Lieske recently premiered The Wormworld Saga (www.wormworldsaga.com), a visually-stunning tale of Jonas, a young boy who discovers a fantastic land. The first chapter went live around Christmas 2010, and has already gotten more than a quarter-million views and translations into languages around the world.
It’s easy to see why – in just a few pages, Lieske presents some absolutely stunning digitally painted artwork, conveying a unique sense of place and setting even before the fantastic elements are introduced. We talked with Lieske about his plans for Wormworld, the advantages of going digital, and what it’s like being a hit right out of the gate.
Newsarama: Daniel, how do you feel about the response to the book so far?
Daniel Lieske: At the moment, I'm quite overwhelmed. I sure had high hopes for the launch and I know that I did some things that are unusual on the net and therefore were likely to cause some buzz. But the response so far really outdoes my imagination. The first chapter has attracted over 170k readers in its first two weeks and that is really a big success in my eyes.
Nrama: Give our readers an idea of the story.
Lieske: The story might be best described as a classic fantasy tale in the style of fantasy movies from the ‘80s like The Neverending Story or The Goonies, but with a strong influence from the Studio Ghibli anime like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.
It's going to be a mix of Western and Eastern motives, with a strong emphasis on characters and their development and motivations.
Nrama: How long will the graphic novel run?
Lieske: The graphic novel is plotted out as a trilogy, and the first part we just entered will consist of something between 15 and 20 chapters. All in all, the whole saga will be something between 45 and 60 chapters. And I have just finished the first chapter. The rest of the first part exists in writing though. Part two and three are worked out very roughly right now.
Nrama: When do you see the second part going online?
Lieske: Currently, I plan to keep my day job and just see how the first chapter develops. I will work on the second chapter on the same schedule as last year, and that means that the second chapter will be finished at the end of 2011.
Nrama: Why did you decide to do this online, and what were some of the struggles you went through in putting this together?
Lieske: I want the maximum amount of people to enjoy The Wormworld Saga, and the web is the ideal place to achieve this. If I had produced the first part with a typical German comics publisher, a maximum of 5,000 to 10,000 copies would have been produced. I reached more then ten times the readers in two weeks on the web.
My main struggle at the moment is, that I would love to put more time into the creation of The Wormworld Saga, but I have a day job, and I can only dedicate a few hours every day to the project.
Nrama: Tell us about how you create the book -- your artistic style and technique.
Lieske: The graphic novel is created completely digitally. All sketches and artworks are drawn in Photoshop with a Wacom tablet.
Nrama: Could you tell us a bit about the design? Do you use photo reference, or are things drawn from scratch?
Lieske: The artwork is created mostly from imagination. I use photo reference to research certain things, though. A good example of that would be the Volkswagen in Chapter One. I found several photos of this particular car, and used them as a reference to get the details right.
Nrama: The vertical page layout plays a big role in this story. How did you decide to incorporate this into the storytelling?
Lieske: I learned about the "infinite canvas" through the books of Scott McCloud. I've also seen the online comics he presents on his website in this layout and I just believed that it would be the best way to present a comic on screen. I don't like turning pages. It distracts me from the story.
Nrama: Tell us a bit about the fan donation support system, and how you're working with fans to bring the story to life.
Lieske: Well, I don't actually expect the fans to make me a living through donations. I'm very humbled by the amount of money that was given to me up to this point. I can make very good use of it on my way to become independent from my job, and I have several ideas what to do with it that can bring the project forward.
But in the end I don't want the project to be dependent on donations. My goal is to create a range of products around The Wormworld Saga that hopefully will bring in enough money in the future, so that I'm able to put my full workforce on the graphic novel.
The donations are the first very important step towards that goal and I want everyone to know that it's an honor for me to put every single donator into the credits of the online graphic novel. Your names belong there, because you are making all this possible.
Nrama: And you have what a lot of people would consider a pretty cool day job --
Lieske: I don't want to complain about my day job but it is obvious, I guess, that I'm looking for a new direction. I've been in computer games for 10 years now and I just don't think that this is what I want to do until I die.
Nrama: Tell us about some of the games you've worked on, and if this has influenced how you make comics.
Lieske: A lot of the games I worked on weren’t particularly popular outside of Germany. I worked on some German football manager games and trade simulations. The biggest title I ever worked on, which also gained some international reputation, was Sacred 2. I did some concept art and illustration on that one.
My job as a game artist has definitely shaped my skills in digital painting, but apart from that my computer game works are completely different from my personal artwork. It’s really two worlds for me that don’t overlap too much.
Nrama: What are some of your biggest visual influences on this story, both in fantasy, real life and other genres?
Lieske: Visually, I'm influenced by the traditional masters and a lot of digital artists, but also by the visual style of the director Ridley Scott. I'm a big fan of classic music and movie soundtracks and the biggest influence of all, of course, is nature and its limitless beauty.
Nrama: I'm also curious about your take on such new formats as the iPad – when formatting the story, did you have things like that in mind, or do you see coming up with specific versions for the iPad/phones down the road?
Lieske: I already had the iPad in mind when I planned the first chapter. When the screen resolution of the iPad was announced, I was very happy to find out that it matched my layout perfectly (being 1024 wide).
The iPad is the ideal device for enjoying The Wormworld Saga. It features super smooth scrolling by touch and you can just hold the story in your hands. I'm very curious to see which other devices will emerge this year.
I'm hoping for a wide range of devices and that many people are buying them. I'm currently planning a Wormworld Saga app for tablet devices that will have some advanced features over the free online version.
Nrama: Do you see collecting the story in hard-copy format in the future?
Lieske: Well, the format is quite a challenge to be edited into a page layout. I guess the visual storytelling will suffer from it at least a bit. I really see The Wormworld Saga as one of the first digital-only concepts out there.
But yes, my agency is looking for publishers that are interested in the challenge to put The Wormworld Saga into hard copy, and I'm really curious how that would turn out.
Nrama: So, give us some hints as to what we can anticipate as the story unfolds.
Lieske: Well, without spoiling anything, I can say that the second chapter will feature the magic moment when Jonas finds the passage to the Wormworld, and from then on we will find ourselves in a beautiful and exotic world, in which an epic adventure will unfold.
Nrama: What are some of your favorite comics right now, online and hard copy?
Lieske: Online, I currently enjoy The Meek by Der-shing Helmer, and Dresden Codak by Aaron Diaz, among others. I don't read too much comics on paper, but one of my all-time favorites would be Akira by Otomo.
Nrama: What are you working on outside of Wormworld?
Lieske: The Wormworld Saga pretty much consumes all of my time at the moment, so besides that, I'm only working on my job.Next at Newsarama: We talk to one of the most popular webcomics creators out there, as Ryan North joins us to discuss Dinosaur Comics and his surprise hit anthology Machine of Death. And find out which webcomics creators we’ll be talking to next! Be there as Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics continues!
- Wide World of Webcomics Part One: Ethan & Malachai Nicolle's AXE-COP
- Wide World of Webcomics Part Two: Pay Attention to LUCY KNISLEY