Aces High

V For Vendetta’s le­gendary co- cre­ator David Lloyd is set­ting his sights on a new cause – rein­vent­ing dig­i­tal comics, as David Bar­nett dis­cov­ers

Comic Heroes - - Contents - www.acesweekly.co.uk

David Lloyd on his ex­cit­ing dig­i­tal adventure,

Aces Weekly.

Had David Lloyd given the world – and the post­mil­len­nial anti-cap­i­tal­ism move­ment – noth­ing other than the iconic look for Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, his place would still be as­sured in comics his­tory.

As it is, he’s had a ca­reer span­ning al­most four decades, of­ten at the fore­front of Bri­tish comics, and with his cur­rent project Aces Weekly he also has a place in the van­guard of the dig­i­tal comics revo­lu­tion.

Aces Weekly is a dig­i­tal-only comics an­thol­ogy that launched three years ago by Lloyd and Bam­bos Ge­or­giou, a true comics re­nais­sance man who has worked over the past quar­ter-cen­tury as a pub­lisher, edi­tor, writer, artist and jour­nal­ist on pub­li­ca­tions and prop­er­ties rang­ing from 2000 AD to Thun­der­cats to Sid the Snake.

You buy it by the vol­ume, each one com­pris­ing seven weeks’ worth of strips, bro­ken down into three­p­age episodes. It harkens back to the clas­sic Bri­tish weekly an­thol­ogy comics of yore, of which re­ally only

2000 AD sur­vives. And those old enough to re­mem­ber Marvel UK’s

Ti­tans re­print ti­tle of the ’70s will ap­pre­ci­ate the wide-screen for­mat of Aces Weekly, de­signed for lap­top or PC screens, or tablets held side­ways, or even your smart TV.

An in­ter­na­tional flavour

The scope of Aces Weekly is vast, with a strong in­ter­na­tional con­tin­gent. In any given vol­ume you might find Lew Stringer’s

Viz- es­que Com­bat Colin rub­bing shoul­ders with Herb Trimpe’s WWII strip Fire­hawks, or the in­sane ge­nius of Santa Claus Ver­sus The Nazis along­side the Ghi­bli-ish The Cat Who Came To Call. “Eclec­tic” doesn’t even be­gin to cover it.

“I’m very ex­cited by the truly in­ter­na­tional flavour of Aces Weekly,” says Ge­or­giou. “We have con­trib­u­tors from the UK, USA, France, Bel­gium, Italy, Spain, Por­tu­gal, Ar­gentina, Brazil, the Philip­pines, New Zealand, Ukraine, In­done­sia and China. Fully half our read­er­ship also comes from abroad, thanks to David’s con­stant glo­be­trot­ting.”

It was Lloyd’s glo­be­trot­ting that birthed the orig­i­nal idea for Aces

Weekly in the first place, thanks to an en­counter at the San Diego Comic-Con with Pepe Moreno, the Span­ish comic cre­ator and video game de­vel­oper per­haps best known to Bri­tish and Amer­i­can au­di­ences for his work on Heavy Metal and Epic Il­lus­trated in the ’80s.

Lloyd says: “I was stim­u­lated to the pos­si­bil­ity of an ex­clu­sively on­screen an­thol­ogy by an en­counter with Pepe Moreno in San Diego, who was do­ing comics on­line then via his own set-up af­ter frus­tra­tion at los­ing out on a print book be­cause its re­pro and other costs had left him with noth­ing for his cre­ative ef­forts.

“I ini­tially thought of putting my bunch on his or another sim­i­lar plat­form but was per­suaded to es­tab­lish our own brand and site by my co-founder and ini­tial man­ag­ing edi­tor, Bam­bos Ge­or­giou. It was a good de­ci­sion but turned out to be harder work!”

So why is Lloyd, a vet­eran of print comics go­ing back to his work for Marvel UK in 1979, now such a dig­i­tal evan­ge­list?

“Print­ing and reg­u­lar dis­tri­bu­tion of comics is an ex­pen­sive, time-wast­ing and un­nec­es­sary way of telling sto­ries in se­quen­tial art when cy­berspace gives us a wider and eas­ier al­ter­na­tive,” he says. “We’re just swap­ping one sur­face for another af­ter all to show them on, and

No long lead time, no re­stricted page

count, and no print­ing prob­lems – pages look bright and sparkling, with colours just like the

artist wanted

they look bril­liant on it. Ease of pro­duc­tion was what in­formed the fi­nal de­ci­sion, but cre­ator con­trol and the ben­e­fits of di­rect con­nec­tion to buy­ers were ma­jor driv­ers for mo­ti­va­tion as well.” Cre­ator own­er­ship of all the

Aces Weekly strips is a ma­jor con­cern for Lloyd, and a draw for the big names he brings to the prod­uct – artists lined up for fu­ture vol­umes in­clude Steve Bis­sette, Dylan Teague, Hunt Emer­son, and Colleen Do­ran. Lloyd says he’s cut­ting out the mid­dle-man and get­ting the comics di­rect from the creators to the read­er­ship with a min­i­mum of fuss, which means a bet­ter deal for artists and writ­ers.

The way Lloyd en­thuses about the Aces Weekly ethos – he calls con­trib­u­tors his “Aces” – gives it a feel of a col­lec­tive built on prin­ci­ples of fair­ness and eq­uity. Ev­ery­one gets a share of the in­come from each vol­ume, mean­ing it’s in the best in­ter­ests of the creators to pro­mote their work and the prod­uct as much as they can them­selves.

DIG­I­TAL DE­LIV­ERY

Don’t get too hung up on the word “dig­i­tal”, though – that doesn’t mean that the way comics are ac­tu­ally made has to change.

“Dig­i­tal is only im­por­tant as a means of de­liv­ery to us – noth­ing else. We changed our ad­ver­tis­ing from us­ing ‘ex­clu­sively dig­i­tal’ to ‘ex­clu­sively on­screen’ when I started get­ting ques­tions like: ‘What’s it like do­ing dig­i­tal art now?’ and some con­fu­sion on whether dig­i­tal meant we were tech­ni­cally spe­cific in other ways.”

So while many artists do ac­tu­ally pro­duce their strips dig­i­tally, oth­ers do it the old-fash­ioned way, too, with pen­cil and ink on pa­per. Lloyd says: “The art on Aces Weekly

can be dig­i­tally pro­duced – and some of our Aces do pro­duce it that way – but it can be done tra­di­tion­ally too. We just have to scan it to the right res and other specs – no com­pli­ca­tion is in­volved.”

All of which, he says, makes it a far more at­trac­tive propo­si­tion for pub­lisher, creators and read­ers com­pared to pro­duc­ing a printed prod­uct. He checks off the ad­van­tages: “No long lead time for pub­li­ca­tion; no re­stricted page­count, so we can pro­vide as many Ex­tras as our Aces want to give us;

and we never have any print­ing prob­lems on our pages – they look sparkling and bright on­screen, with the colours look­ing just the way the artist wanted them to be.”

There’s no doubt that the pop­u­lar­ity of dig­i­tal comics is on the rise, es­pe­cially through plat­forms such as Comixol­ogy, through which all the ma­jor pub­lish­ers sell their wares. It’s the ease of ob­tain­ing comics that makes dig­i­tal a big draw for a lot of peo­ple – no more hav­ing to make the jour­ney to the comic store or wait­ing for the mail or­der pack­age to ar­rive. Comics can be de­liv­ered wire­lessly at the touch of a but­ton on the day of re­lease.

“We’re on Comixol­ogy now and we’ve been on there a while,” says Lloyd. “We’ve got sev­eral of

Col­lect­ing has al­ways been part of the mo­ti­va­tion, which is why there’s re­sis­tance to dig­i­tal from many

our over-200-page vol­umes on sale there, and we’ve been adding them on a monthly ba­sis.”

How­ever, although Comixol­ogy is “a use­ful ex­tra sales point,” Lloyd prefers to sell di­rect from the web­site. He says: “I don’t like los­ing the 50% they charge for our place there. They mostly sell pre­vi­ously-in-print comics from the Big Two, not dig­i­tal-only, so, though they’re suc­cess­ful, they can’t be held up as proof of the eco­nomic suc­cess of dig­i­tal comics. We pre­fer al­ways to sell via our web­site, where only a small frac­tion of our price goes to main­tain­ing our plat­form with the rest go­ing to our Aces.”

Col­lec­tor gene ther­apy

Comic fans, though, are a no­to­ri­ously ac­quis­i­tive lot – they have the col­lec­tor gene. Who doesn’t have a cou­ple (or cou­ple of dozen!) long-boxes of comics, all care­fully stored in pro­tec­tive sleeves and filed al­pha­bet­i­cally or chrono­log­i­cally or ac­cord­ing to pub­lisher, char­ac­ter or cre­ator? Is the ease of dig­i­tal break­ing the stran­gle­hold of ac­tual pos­ses­sion of hard-copy comics?

“The jury’s out,” ad­mits Lloyd. “Young comic read­ers of the usual in­dus­try prod­uct and the book-style works of re­cent years like the ‘thing’ as much as older ones, though this may change in time. But the col­lect­ing el­e­ment has al­ways been part of comic read­er­ship mo­ti­va­tion, which is why there’s tena­cious re­sis­tance to dig­i­tal from many in this par­tic­u­lar area of on­line en­ter­tain­ment.”

Read­ers are happy to buy books and mag­a­zines dig­i­tally, though. Lloyd says: “The at­ti­tude to comics is dif­fer­ent to the at­ti­tude shown by read­ers of books, mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers in dig­i­tal form, where ‘col­lect­ing’ is not tra­di­tion­ally a key el­e­ment of the en­joy­ment.

“The other thing to bear in mind in the un­der­stand­ing of the younger reader’s viewpoint on dig­i­tal comics is that many are used to comics on the net be­ing

free – ei­ther as back­log manga that pub­lish­ers can’t sell in print any more and are happy to shove on the web, or through the plethora of free we­b­comix that peo­ple just do for fun or to get ‘seen’ – so dig­i­tal is dif­fi­cult to sell to on that ba­sis.”

That said, if David Lloyd and his team have em­braced the ob­vi­ous ben­e­fits of dig­i­tal from a pub­lisher’s point of view – no print­ing costs, no ware­hous­ing, no trans­port­ing comics to all cor­ners of the globe – isn’t it just a mat­ter of time be­fore the big pub­lish­ers do the same?

Lloyd says, “I have a feel­ing they’d like to, here in the de­vel­oped Western world. They know that al­most all their cus­tomers have tablets, lap­tops, desk­tops and smart TVs – where you can make comics big! They wouldn’t lose out.

“If you’re pro­duc­ing the amount of prod­uct that Marvel and DC do, it’s mad­ness not to use the best and cheap­est means of re­pro­duc­tion and de­liv­ery ever in­vented. Those com­pa­nies have long-last­ing con­tracts with their sup­pli­ers and distrib­u­tors, and it might prove dif­fi­cult for them to do in that light. It would cer­tainly be a gamechanger in terms of the read­ers’ per­cep­tions of the im­por­tance of the value of the ‘thing’.”

Spread­ing the word

While Lloyd waits for the rest of the world to catch up with his vi­sion, he does what any pi­o­neer has to – puts in the hours, and evan­ge­lises about Aces Weekly any­where and ev­ery­where he can.

You’ll catch him at most ma­jor cons, though some­times they can be a hard sell given that he might be sit­ting at a ta­ble with no piles of prod­uct to en­tice peo­ple with. He does, though, do a nice line in art cards drawn by Shaky Kane, which you can buy your ac­cess codes on, so at least you have some­thing to walk away with.

Evan­gel­i­cal he might be, but David Lloyd is also a re­al­ist about the im­pact of dig­i­tal on the comics mar­ket. When asked if Aces Weekly has taken off as well as he hoped it would three years ago, he’s bru­tally hon­est: “No, it’s taken too long to make an im­pres­sion on the block­ing wall of comics read­ers’ ad­dic­tion to pa­per, as if comics had to be on pa­per to be comics, which is as ab­surd as sug­gest­ing that a paint­ing had to be on the wall of a cave be­fore some­one fig­ured it could be on some­thing else…”

But he re­mains doggedly com­mit­ted to Aces Weekly and those who have bought into his vi­sion. If he could go back in time, would he do it all again?

“Sure,” he says. He thinks about it for a bit, then adds: “There isn’t one pi­o­neer­ing en­ter­prise in his­tory that hasn’t had it tough to be­gin, but it’s worth it be­cause we’re work­ing for a bet­ter sit­u­a­tion for all comic creators and for those we serve to en­ter­tain.”

Op­po­site The di­verse Aces lineup in­cludes (from top, left to right)

Si­car­ios byRoberto Cor­roto and Er­tito Mon­tana; Re­turn Of The

Hu­man by JC Vaughan and Mark Wheat­ley;

Shoot For The Moon by Alain Mau­rice and Alexan­dre Te­fenkgi;

Cow­boys and In­sects by Dave Hine and Shaky Kane; and Val­ley Of The

Shad­ows by David Lloyd and Dave Jackson.

Above: The Statue by Por­tugese cre­ator Car­los Pas­coa is de­scribed as “a mes­sage of warn­ing about how to treat things you might dig up from the ground.” It’s per­haps a lit­tle sub­tler and a lit­tle less high­con­cept than Santa Claus Ver­sus The Nazis

or The First Gen­tle­man Of The Apoca­lypse...

Be­low: The War Pain­ter by Ital­ian cre­ator Laura Scarpa fo­cuses on a war artist sent to the front with the Aus­trian army in the First World War.

Above: Con­trast­ing styles, dif­fer­ent worlds:

Tales Of Gim­b­ley by Phil El­liot, and Val­ley Of The

Shad­ows by David Lloyd and Dave Jackson.

Clock­wise from top left: Where else would you find such an eclec­tic mix of UK, US and Euro­pean creators? Re­quiem by Jorge Mon­giovi; The

Love Broth­ers by Marc Hem­pel; Cat­a­lyst Is­land

by Henry Flint; The Fez by Roger Lan­gridge;

Dun­geons and Bur­glars

by Jok and San­tullo.

Be­low: Er­ri­cus Vane by Lau­rence Bev­er­age and Nardo Con­forti is set in the world of Gran­dom­ina cre­ated by rock band Fear­less Vam­pire Killers. Op­po­site page: Psy­cho Gran by David Leach and

Clara’s Shadow by Rachael Smith.

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