What if superheroes, created by analogues of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, were real and based on actual people with powers? What if they were hidden away in a sleepy town since the 1950′s? And if there are superheroes, are there supervillains?
Action, Ohio, written by Neil Kleid and illustrated by Paul Salvi, was originally one of the hopeful competitors trying to win a contract with Zuda Comics. The comic follows heroine Andi Bruce, a Detroit detective with a sad past, who is compelled to solve a brutal murder. Her investigation gradually leads her to learn about the existence of superheroes in a town on the Michigan-Ohio border. Eventually, she must decide between solving her case or protecting the heroes’ freedoms by keeping things quiet.
I first encountered Action, Ohio, when Jack, Anthony, The Doctor, Delos, and I did a round of reviews at Comic Fencing. I heard about the comic again when Neil sent out a press release that the comic had moved to Shadowline, an Image Comics affiliate that begun publishing webcomics in October 2008. I did some quick research, and it quickly dawned on me that Neil Kleid was prolific. Winner of a Xeric Award (for Ninety Candles), writer for several print comics published by NBM to Slave Labor to Image, art director for Comedy Central and Miramax campaigns, creator of several webcomics…. Good God, y’all.
A large sample of his work can be found at his Rant Comics site.
I contacted Neil if he’d like to do an e-mail interview, and he graciously accepted. Neil had already conducted two excellent interviews with Newsrama and io9. I wanted to touch on subjects that hadn’t yet been covered at the other sites: what it was like working for Zuda and Shadowline, what common themes were within his body of work, and … why Ohio?
WCO: Action, Ohio, has been hosted on Zuda Comics (an affiliate of DC), and Shadowline (an affiliate of Image). Some independent webcomic artists, like Spike from Templar, AZ, insist that the benefits of self-publishing are more rewarding. You’ve seen both sides of the story, having worked on the Late Night Block and Todt Hill at The Chemistry Set. What are the advantages with working at Zuda or Shadowline?
Neil: Well, right off the bat there’s the same advantage of self-publishing versus working with a place like Oni, Dark Horse, Vertigo, etc — the fact that you don’t need to deal with the administrative end of things. Don’t have to worry about hosting fees, don’t have to deal with maintaining the site and so forth. More importantly, though, you get NAME CACHE. See, name cache is important — especially when you’re trying to focus eyes on a new product by new talent. In the sea of self publishing, out in the deep waters of the back half of the Diamond Distributor catalog, trying to get a new comic book noticed is nigh impossible unless you’ve got NAME CACHE — i.e., there’s a name talent on the book or you’re connected to another book or publisher that has a name. New Avatar titles use “from the publisher of Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, etc.” and Oni books get a bit of reflective shine from SCOTT PILGRIM. It’s a itme honored tradition and it works, especially when you get right down to it and realize that the Diamond catalog ain’t all that big.
The internet, however, is freaking infinite. Scoring hits to your webcomic, when coasting the void on your own, is a trial. You need to be creator, editor, publisher, advertiser, marketer and PR guy all in one. Many can handle it — you got your Jeph Jacques, your Scott Kurtz, your Gabe and Tycho, R. Stevens and more. When your comic is hosted on a publisher-connected hub, though, you can focus on THE WORK and let the name cache bring viewers in. A webcomic on the Shadowline hub has the advantage of being connected to a) Image Comics b) Jim Valentino c) excellent cartoonists like Carla McNeil, Trudy Cooper and others. Getting in with the Zuda crowd means that you’re part of the Warner Bros/DC Comics media machine and surrounded by well known webcomics like HIGH MOON, BAYOU, NITE OWLS and more. Plus, you know, you get paid.
And at the end of the day, should your webcomic flourish at either site, odds are pretty good on a print collection.
Now, sure — you can do all that on your own if you’ve got the moxie and business sense. Personally, I’m not a businessman nor a marketing machine. I like to write comics. I like creating them within nurturing, friendly studio environments which is why I’m with Shadowline. For me, being able to be on the hub is happiness enough. Everything else is gravy.
WCO: Have you seen any big differences between how Zuda and Shadowline run things, from the standpoint of corporate culture, editorial influence, etc.?
Neil: Besides the fact that Zuda pays a rate and Shadowline is all back end, if anything?
Yeah… there’s a lot more freedom at Shadowline. Jim and Kris Simon tend to be pretty hands off when it comes to editorial influence vis a vis the webcomics. As long as the comic is awesome, go with god. They see something in each webcomic they add to the site and trust in the creators to shepherd the strip to its potential awesomeness.
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