Tuesday, September 29, 2015

History of Champion City Comics - Part VII - Comic Book Reviews

I launched Champion City Comics in October of 2009 and we experienced only a handful of hits. Our webcomics production increased in 2010, which led to an estimated 300 to 800 monthly page views. Those numbers were low and discouraging because I was doing everything possible to promote our work via social media and by connecting with other webcomics creators in various forums. 

We had a great line of webcomics available, so I decided to add something else to Champion City Comics which would generate more traffic. Comic book reviews made the most sense because it was my thought that people could enjoy reading reviews of their favorite comics while discovering new and exciting webcomics.

If we were going to post comic book reviews on a daily basis then people had to be recruited to write reviews. A few motivated souls accepted my invitation and we started updating the site on a daily basis with comic book reviews and some other comic related articles that would bring in traffic. The gamble worked and our page views started to soar. It was October 2012 when we had over 20,000 page views for the entire month. I was very excited to see that we were on the right track, but when I reviewed the statistical information for our site, I noticed that people were just checking the reviews and our webcomics were getting little attention. A review of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles issue was our top read for the month.

That was the moment when I realized we should stop writing comic book reviews. I love making comics and I love reading comics, but I learned an important lesson that both may not always coexist peacefully. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The History of Champion City Comics - Part VI - ...And We Formed A Band

This is the first Champion City Comics project that was - and still is - trapped in development hell. Creators of comic books and webcomics all have special projects that seem destined for greatness, but they somehow never blossomed. ..And We Formed A Band was my first of many development hell projects.

Writers are told to write what they know, and I know a thing or two about rock and roll and forming bands. Music has been a part of my life since I was a kid, and a goal I set for myself in college was to form a band. There were some unsuccessful attempts, but I finally struck gold following graduation and successfully formed a band. We were together for about a year and half. I had to quit the band when I was hired for a job in another state.

...And We Formed A Band was my first attempt at doing a webcomics project that didn't involve crime noir or science fiction. It was a story about two friends that attempt to fulfill their dreams of starting a band, but there are a series of ups and downs involving an overly energetic 80's cover band drummer, psychotic ex-girlfriends, an annoying techno band, and a crazy ex-Vietnam vet who thinks he's the second coming of Jimi Hendrix.

I started writing the story sometime during 2010 when I was introduced via email to an artist named Christopher Alvarez. Christopher sent me a link to his artwork and I noticed this piece he completed of a rock band, which instantly gave me the creative spark to begin ...And We Formed A Band. We worked on the basic premise of the story and I sent him a few script pages for his comments and suggestions. Christopher sent me four pages that he penciled, inked, and lettered. I've embedded those pages below for your to read. Personally, I think he did a great job with the art and it would have been wise if I found someone to do digital lettering.

...And We Formed A Band only had four completed pages, plus we didn't even have a cover created for the project. I decided to post the pages to Champion City Comics to see what the reaction would be from readers, and it earned some nice stats when it debuted in 2010. After it debuted, ...And We Formed A Band went straight to development hell.

Some projects are meant to be and others fall apart due to a variety of reasons. Work schedules and other commitments couldn't keep ...And We Formed A Band going, but it is one of those projects that I have tried time and time again to raise from the dead with no no success.

Tony Wright is the owner of Champion City Comics. Follow him on Twitter @TonyDougWright.

...And We Formed A Band by Tony Wright

Monday, September 21, 2015

The History of Champion City Comics - Part V - Westwood

The cover for Westwood
Westwood was our third webcomics project at Champion City Comics and it debuted sometime in 2010. I was the writer and the pencils, inks, and lettering were done by Victor Pozzi, an Argentine artist. Westwood is a sci-fi thriller that examines the 2003 disappearance of a college student named Charlie Westwood. A photograph of Charlie Westwood is discovered and he's wearing the same clothing he wore the night he disappeared, but the photograph was taken in 1976, which leads to an investigation.

Victor Pozzi was interested in being the artist for The End of Paradise, but I had already selected an artist named Kav for the project. There was a great deal of potential in Victor's art samples, so I did my best to come up with a project for him. A few days after first contacting Victor, I had a rough draft for a story that would become Westwood.

Westwood was created out of my love for urban legends, secret societies, and time travel.

I grew up in Ohio and there was this urban legend that a young guy walked into this local bar, got in a fight with one of the patrons, was killed, and was buried outside of the bar near the railroad tracks. I tried making that a basic crime noir story, but somehow I went overboard. Maybe it was adding the time travel element or having a secret society involved that made the story more campy than noir. Who knows which one of those ideas came first, but I should have kept it simple. I thought it was a fantastic idea to have this secret society of individuals that guarded the secrets of time travel so it would not be exploited for the wrong reasons. Was there a time machine? No. I thought there could be these two magic orbs. Oh boy. Typing this out was a bit rough. I'm literally shaking my head at my own bad ideas.

Are you still thinking about the orbs? I got the idea from a co-worker that received Baoding balls as a gift for Christmas. They were the talk of the office for like a day and that somehow got stuck in my creative process for Westwood.

Victor was and still is a great artist. I feel bad I gave him a project that wasn't one of my best efforts. That man is a saint for working with me. We've worked on some other projects and I'm happy to say that my story ideas have gotten better over time. No more orbs. No more secret societies. Take a look at Westwood below and have a grand ol' time with one of my unintentionally silly stories.

I'll see you tomorrow. Behave yourselves.

Tony Wright is the owner of Champion City Comics. Follow him @TonyDougWright. 

Westwood by Tony Wright

Friday, September 18, 2015

The History of Champion City Comics - Part IV - The End of Paradise

The color cover for The End of Paradise

The End of Paradise was a project I developed when The Champion City Fire came to a complete halt during the end of 2009. Joe Haemmerle, the artist for The Champion City Fire, was in college and didn't have time to work on the webcomic. I put that series on hold and decided to start another story which became The End of Paradise.

This was my first attempt at recruiting a total stranger to be my artist. I spent some time during the beginning of 2010 looking for an artist and discovered two talented artists, Kav and Victor Pozzi. I couldn't say yes to one and let the other one get away, so I created a project for each artist. Both are my friends to this very day, which is something truly wonderful and amazing. Their work for Champion City Comics has been wonderful and their work has truly progressed over the years.

Kav was the artist and letterer for The End of Paradise, a crime noir revenge tale. I discovered him via Digital Webbing and was impressed with his work. Kav's artwork featured some crime themed projects, plus he was a fan of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' Criminal. How could it go wrong?

Before we move along any further, here's the synopsis of The End of Paradise: Nick Hamilton, a former small-time criminal, is on a serious revenge mission to kill Frankie Paradise, a notorious mob boss responsible for the death of an innocent man and his family. Joining Nick on his mission is Marshall Jackson, a weapons dealer, and The Kid, a teenage prophet and gun for hire. Nick, Marshall, and The Kid must take out Paradise's henchmen in order to get to their main target, Frankie Paradise.

It should have been a 50 to 75 page graphic novel, but it ended up becoming a 138 page monster of a story that was not even close to ending despite Kav's best efforts to have me "wrap it up, dude". Kav and I agreed to put a hold on the story nearly one year after stating our epic adventure to work on another project, which I'll write about in a later post. We never went back to the story to finish it, but we thought about starting over from the beginning with a new title, new script, colored pages, and digital lettering.

The End of Paradise is a very good story, and I admit as a writer there are some flaws with the script which are totally my fault. Kav did an amazing job with the art and lettering, and we did everything in our power to promote the hell out of this story. We even offered it to publishers and sadly we never received any responses. C'est la vie.

The End of Paradise was a story that I made up as I went along without any true plans for an ending. Yes, there was a rough outline and I pretty much ignored it because I had new ideas for the story popping up in my head on a daily basis. I'd write 8 to 10 pages, send them to Kav, and then he'd send me the finished pages asking for more. I'd write another 8 to 10 pages and the cycle went on for roughly 138 pages. By that point, Kav was ready to wrap it up or try another project as a change of pace.

Kav was - and still is - great at offering script advice. Working with him made me a better writer and he provided me with some tips that I still use today when developing a story.

If you're interested, then check out the epic crime tale that is The End of Paradise. You'll like it because it's awesome.

Tony Wright is the owner of Champion City Comics. Follow him on Twitter @TonyDougWright.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

The History of Champion City Comics - Part III - The Champion City Fire

The cover for our first issue

The Champion City Fire was the first webcomic/comic book project for Champion City Comics. It was initially pitched to comic book publishers as the first of a six issue comic book run, but a lack of interest led us to the world of webcomics.

My interest in writing comic books started sometime in 2004 when I was reviewing comic books for Silver Bullet Comics (RIP) and Erasing Clouds. My reviews mainly focused on small independent companies and self-publishers. Some of the titles were amazing while others were so bad that I should have scanned them, created a PDF, titled the thing 'How Not To Write Comics', and uploaded it to Scribd for the world to read.

If you followed the Erasing Clouds link then you saw the title of my column was Champion City Comics. I was born and raised in Springfield, Ohio, which was once referred to as "The Champion City" because it was the producer of the Champion Farm Equipment brand. Also, it works well for a comic book review article and it's even better for a comic book and webcomics community.

A few story ideas floated around in my head, but I decided to do something that blended noir with vigilante tales. I was reading a bunch of Batman graphic novels at the time and was watching films like Blast of Silence, The Killers (1946), and Le Cercle RogueThe Champion City Fire was a title that I wrote down in a notebook and it stuck with me for months. There was a story with that title and it took many synopsis revisions before I came up with a story that was good in my opinion.

I came up with a rough guide to a six issue comic book series c.2004 and a few months later I had developed a rough draft of issue #1 of The Champion City Fire. It wasn't easy, but I developed a twenty-five page script and eventually sent it to a colleague for review. Their critique of my script was blunt but diplomatic. It takes a special person to tell you that your story sucks. I re-wrote the script and my colleague found the changes to be an improvement. Then I was hit with a moment of inspiration, re-wrote the script again and sent it off for review. My colleague was impressed, and that mini boot camp of script writing was tough but necessary in my writing evolution.

Finding an artist was not difficult because my cousin, Joe Haemmerle, was a talented artist that graciously accepted my offer of collaborating on a comic book project. Joe must like me because he's still around some six years later. Also, he's still a very talented artist.

Let's talk about the story. The Champion City Fire is set in the mythological city of New Ravenwood, Ohio. Two time traveling vigilantes arrived twelve years ago and murdered ten of the most notorious criminals in the city. Detective Johnny Magnum was assigned to investigate the murders and discovered that all ten victims were in the proverbial doghouse of New Ravenwood's crime lord, Alex Empire. Magnum's top witness was an insane former used car salesman, but everything went cold and the cases were left unsolved. Fast forward twelve years and the time travelers have returned and are back to taking out New Ravenwood's infamous criminals. This is Magnum's last chance to solve the crime and figure out who was behind the murders.

I've re-written that previous paragraph plenty of times and have realized that my "hook" for grabbing readers might not have been solid as I wanted. At the time it was viewed by me as a golden script. No, it was a golden script plus it was in the running for an Eisner Award. I'm amazed that I didn't dust off some shelf space for the award I was sure to win.

I sort of cringe at character names like Johnny Magnum and Alex Empire, but I'm proud of the script. My earliest scripts didn't contain the hard-boiled inspired captions and dialogue. Those early scripts featured some seriously bland captions, plus a few captions were basically these horrible text bombs.

The artwork was also a work in progress. Joe and I knew that color comics were appealing to editors and readers, so we went with a style that looked incredible when we started the project. Below is the proposed first page of The Champion City Fire. Not only does it have the original artwork concept, but it features the early draft of the script which was heavily revised. This is what happens when you have a script that's not critiqued.

Not only did I revise the script, but Joe decided to give the story a new and improved design. The page below is the result of our changes. This is also page one of the story and you can see the differences.

The artwork by Joe Haemmerle is excellent and I love his minimalist use of colors. Joe's style is a great asset for Champion City Comics and I'm always excited to see what he brings to the table when we collaborate on a project.

Something I learned while researching writing a script is that you have the basic story people see on the surface but there is something else to your story that some readers may or may not recognize. The Champion City Fire is not just a story of time travelers and cold cases but it's also about how vigilante justice is basically an act of sheer folly. We're not talking a revenge tale, but the act of reactionaries serving as judge, jury, and executioner. It goes back to reading Batman graphic novels. Batman is one of my favorite characters and he's a vigilante. The inconvenient truth is that he's never solved the cycle of violence that plagues Gotham. Batman fueled the criminal fire and never put it out. The argument goes deeper than this statement and I'm sure an entire novel can be dedicated to vigilantes in comics.

I've embedded the story below for you to read and hope you enjoy the first twelve pages of The Champion City Fire. Yes, we only completed twelve of the twenty-five pages. It was always our intention to finish it, but we never got around to it, which is typical of some Champion City projects. I don't want that last statement to be taken the wrong way because I'm very pleased with our work. Some of our stories are completed, others are a work in progress, and some are in a state of development hell.

Just read The Champion City Fire. Thanks.

Tony Wright is the onwer of Champion City Comics. Follow him on Twitter @TonyDougWright.  

THE CHAMPION CITY FIRE (Pages 1 to 12) (Adult Language & Violence) by Tony Wright

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The History of Champion City Comics - Part II - Discovering Webcomicland

The original Champion City Comics logo designed by yours truly c.2009 using MS Paint. You're welcome, Internet. 

October 2015 marks the six year anniversary of Champion City Comics. I've decided to write some rambling pieces about our history, which I hope you find to be somewhat informative and not too terribly boring.

My thought process for starting a webcomics page six years ago was something along the lines of "If you build it, they will come". Yes, I was pretty clueless when it came to the concept of webcomics, website development, site promoting, search engine optimization, and everything else affiliated with the undertaking. It would have been helpful if the 2009 version of me realized that putting something online does not mean it will easily be discovered by the billions of people surfing the web.

Researching webcomics at the time was very interesting because some comic creators were predicting the impending death of printed comics. Some are still awaiting that death. Webcomics were supposed to be the next phase of publication due to the rise in use of tablets and smartphones. Why pay for one overpriced comic when you could have access to an unlimited digital library for free or at the same cost? Also, webcomics did not impose a financial burden on creators, plus there was a great deal of freedom in the creative process.

Before I started Champion City Comics, I thought about printing my own comic books or graphic novels. There were a few eye-opening articles I read that put into perspective for me the hefty price tag for printing and distributing my own comics. A few thousand dollars was something I could not afford, so that's how I made my way to the digital wonderland that is webcomics. Remember, this was the pre-Kickstarter era of comics.

There were sites out there like Drunk Duck that hosted webcomics. What's nice about them is that you upload your webcomic pages, type in some information, and it's available for viewing. I decided against that at first because it would be a good idea to have a site solely dedicated to my work instead of being lost in a crowd of webcomic creators. Just because your webcomic is on a site like Drunk Duck doesn't mean it will have a hundred or a thousand instant hits. Those sites do have a history of becoming "good ol' boy networks" where you need to scratch some backs in order to get some views or get buried. Also, I had a few experiences with Drunk Duck where I could not find my posted comics. I'll write more on that later, ladies and gentlemen.

Politics and cliques didn't tickle my fancy, so that's how I ended up on Blogger. I knew some people that started blogs using Blogger, so that was my choice for hosting Champion City Comics. The financial cost of starting this site on Blogger in 2009 was ten dollars and that included the registration of our domain name. Setting my account to automatically renew on a yearly basis was simple. Although the cost was minimal, the platform I chose was not user friendly for webcomics.

A few quick searches provided me with some helpful tutorials for improving the appearance of my site. I immediately discovered that Blogger didn't really seem to be the ideal spot for my webcomics. Sites like Drunk Duck allow you to navigate easily from page to page of a webcomic, while Blogger doesn't have anything like that for webcomic creators. Blogger still doesn't have anything like that, which I find somewhat frustrating because catering to webcomic creators worked for hosting sites like WordPress.

I knew there had to be a way to have a successful Blogger page featuring webcomics. It took me some time to get it right, but the discovery of the embedded PDF seemed to be a lovely fit for Champion City Comics. Scribd and Issuu were two sites I discovered while doing some PDF research. If I had a twenty-two or twenty-four page comic, I could convert those pages into a PDF which would be converted at Scribd or Issuu as a digital file I could embed on my site. Take a look at Dr. Death vs The Vampire which was embedded using Scribd and The Champion City Fire which was embedded using Issuu. This would be a good time to mention that those comics have some spicy language and some violence which might not be your cup of tea.

The site was created and the comics were embedded as PDFs for easy viewing. It seemed to me that Champion City Comics was on the right path to success, but that was not the case. Not long after our launch, I discovered an article by Sean Kleefeld, a comic book expert and industry researcher, where he showed how the embedded PDF was not the best fit for creators. His 'Exhibit A' for the article was none other than Champion City Comics. Ah, fame.

I have more to write about webcomics and I'll put another article together for tomorrow. Maybe. I hope.

Tony Wright is the owner of Champion City Comics. Follow him on Twitter @TonyDougWright. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

The History of Champion City Comics - Part I - It's Terrible

"It's terrible"
- Someone's opinion concerning our website c.2010

From late 2009 until early 2014 Champion City Comics experienced a creative period that I view to this day as tremendously successful. Opinions of our success will vary, but my overall assessment of our output is extremely positive and it happened because a group of enthusiastic people sacrificed time and money to create webcomics, comic books, articles, and reviews. Words cannot express my gratitude to the writers and artists and colorists and letterers that made us a great but very special community.

It was never supposed to be a community, but it happened. My Bob Ross opinion of it all was that it was a happy accident. Friendships were developed, bridges burned, and other shenanigans were experienced. My initial plan was to use Champion City Comics as a proverbial springboard which would send us into the world of comics as paid writers and artists. There was never a windfall of cash from publishing our work online or from advertising nor were there contracts from publishers to be signed. We had promises of being published but a small publishing company or two gave us the silent treatment following some brief publishing deal discussions. Is that considered ghosting? 

Our work has been praised and ridiculed. Our use of embedded PDFs created some moments of outrage and was frowned upon by our peers. Comic Related (RIP) and The Two Headed Nerd Podcast gave us plenty of publicity and we are very thankful. People told us that they loved our comics or took the opportunity to tell us how much we sucked. The bumps in the road were rough at times but it didn't slow us down initially. 

Then there was that moment where I quickly discovered that I was the "boss" of Champion City Comics and my management of projects and website updates ranged from dreadful to successful. Current and former members of Champion City Comics will definitely give you the details if you ask them nicely. 

This morning I realized that October 2015 marks our six year anniversary. The past year and a half has been interesting for me when it comes to Champion City Comics. I'm frustrated, proud, burned out, and nostalgic when it comes to this site. 

It's my goal to write more about our history, so you can better understand what we've experienced the past six years. 

Tony Wright is the owner of Champion City Comics. Follow him on Twitter @TonyDougWright. 

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