Tuesday, June 24, 2008

“all the superhero stuff is from my real life; the roommate stuff I had to imagine.”

“My roommate is the most evil man that ever lived.” That thought (probably amidst a fight over toilet paper or spoiled milk) is what sparked the idea for Drew Melbourne’s comic book, Archenemies. The graphic novel is about two roommates, Ethan Baxter and Vincent Darko, living in New York City. As if they don’t have enough problems already what with the skyrocketing rent and shrinking square footage of New York apartments, they have yet to learn that Ethan’s alter ego is a superhero and Vincent’s is a supervillain.

“All the superhero stuff is from my real life; the roommate stuff I had to imagine,” Melbourne says with smug grin that almost makes me believe him. We are sitting at a quaint diner on Hudson Street, complete with red-and-white checkered table clothes and sticky banquettes. This is the first time I’ve talked to a comic book aficionado, and I’m fascinated to learn about how they are made.

Because the multi-step process requires a variety of skill sets (a writer, a penciler, an inker, a colorer, a letterer, an editor), there is a big emphasis on collaboration. The Internet has become a crucial way through which comic bookies can connect and communicate with one another. Using the Internet both increases production efficiency and expands one’s professional contacts. You could even work with someone living in Australia, as Melbourne did, and complete a book without ever meeting face-to-face.

Of course, this can be a negative aspect of an online community: “Superman was created by two teenagers, an artist and a writer, who were friends from down the block…now, there’s sort of a pitfall when you can’t work with someone right in front of you,” Melbourne says.

Besides using the Internet to turn his comic book dream into a colorfully kitschy reality (supervillains and all), Melbourne started an Archenemies website to supplement to the actual book.

“The website is a way to expand the experience of reading the comic,” Melbourne says. He thinks that novels are enough entertainment in and of themselves, what with their length, density, and complicated content (not that the riffs between Ethan and Vincent are not complicated in their own ways – talk about hating your roommate with a vengeance.). However, comics can only offer their readers so much, which is where the website comes in.

“I used the site to publish ‘special features,’ like extra content and stories, as well as to build buzz before the book came out,” Melbourne says mid-chew.

Internet comic book societies form virtual niches akin to those created in video games like EverQuest (only without the avatars and animated ogres). Because these two pastimes have a largely overlapping fan base, it’s understandable that an EverQuest player, who loves the feeling of community he gets when battling an oversized rat with a new avatar friend, would want to recreate a similar sentiment for his new favorite comic book.

However, just as Vincent’s alter ego seeks to destroy mankind, the Internet has its own evil side: piracy. “Comic books feel the same bite as the music industry,” Melbourne says in reference to the dark trend that always makes me think of Jack Sparrow pillaging wooden barrels of iTunes files. Internet communities only increase accessibility to these pirated items, such as downloadable PDFs of a comic that have been scanned into someone’s computer.

“Who does this?” Melbourne wonders aloud, and I agree – why would someone go through the trouble of scanning pages and putting them online without the incentive of monetary rewards or even a cookie?

“It’s hard to quantify people’s individual ethics,” Melbourne decides. “People steal without even thinking about it.”

Even in this situation, there is a silver lining. One man’s questionable morals (and questionable motives – seriously, what pleasure does one receive from pirating comics? I don’t get it) can actually be another man’s free marketing.

“I actually felt a certain level of pride when my book was pirated online,” Melbourne admits without an ounce of his usual sarcasm.

I guess knowing a guy likes your book enough to want to illegally publish it online is almost as fulfilling as if he had actually plagiarized it!

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