“Any person now can create an entire digital experience” Power Play writer Kurt Christenson and artist Reilly Brown talk about the future of digital comics

Power Play comic coverWe’re huge fans of digital comic Power Play here at Pipedream Comics and it was one of our first nominations for the Pipedream Pull List back in October. With it’s mix of super heroes and X games style action this digital only title published exclusively on Comixology, it pushed the boundaries of what writers and artists were doing with the medium of digital comics (plus it was pretty darn funny too!) and we’ve been eagerly waiting a second issue ever since. So wondering just what was going on we got in touch with writer Kurt Christenson and artist Reilly Brown to out just when the Power Play crew would be leaping back on to our tablets!

What inspired you to create Power Play? Were you a big Teen Titans and/or Power Pack fan growing up for example? There’s a bit of a Gen 13 and an early Image feel to it as well I think?

Kurt: My main influences writing the book were Stan Lee Spider-Man and Archie Comics. I really wanted to make characters that were fun, honest, and accessible to as many people as possible. I’ve never read Power Pack and only some Gen13, but the Teen Titans cartoon was amazing, and I love comics like Impulse, Static, Invincible. When a new, young superhero is created and done well, keeping things true to their age and experience, I think it’s always going to be fun, which is what I hope to bring to comics.

Reilly: There were two things that really inspired Power Play.  One was a desire to do a story that took place in New York that REALLY took place in New York, which is to say a story that doesn’t treat it like a generic place with a lot of tall buildings.  Me and Kurt both live here in New York, so it’s a perfect opportunity to actually go outside with the writer and plot the story “on location” so to speak, and incorporate real locations and landmarks into the narrative.

The other thing that I really wanted to do with Power Play was to do a story about people with super powers that didn’t rely on the tropes of superheroes that have been so well established, and some might say overplayed, by Marvel and DC.  What would a story about this be like if Marvel and DC hadn’t already told us what it’s supposed to be like?  One of the first things to go was the idea of fighting crime– and especially doing it for free.  Who would do that?  People are too busy, and the police seem to be doing a fine job as is.  NYC isn’t like it was in the 70’s!  The obvious thing that real people would do if they had superpowers was to make videos of it and put it up on YouTube, which is actually how the first issue starts.

As far as comic book inspirations go, one of my favorite comics growing up was Generation X, and what I loved about that comic how all the characters had unique, original and creative powers.  Powers you hadn’t really seen before, or ones you had but with a uniquely specific twist.  Far too many comic books give people the same few powers– you always have the super strong guy, the fast guy, the guy who shoots laser beams, the guy who can fly, and the telepathic guy, or people who are a combination of those– and they’re just kind of played out.  That’s not to say that we won’t have characters with those powers, but if we do they’ll have some kind of unique twist, either in their origin or the way that their power functions that will make them unique.

Another big inspiration for this is Air Gear, which is a Japanese comic that’s based on a sports league with people who have roller blades that give them powers.  It’s really the only example of a super-powered sports league I can think of!

Did you always plan to release it as a digital book and how do you think the growth of digital publishing is helping comic artists and writers who aren’t linked to a big publisher?
Kurt: Before any of the story elements had really been crafted, we knew two things: one, that it was going to take place in NYC, and we’d portray it as accurately as possible, and two, that it would be digital first. We had talked to Comixology in their first year when things were starting to become feasible to read and create for devices like iPhones/iPod touches. When the iPad came out, well it was an obvious game changer.

I think comics as an industry is hurting pretty bad, and I think it’s mostly due to an outdated publishing model that no longer works. The amount of new readers you’ll draw to a comic book store are not going to make up the numbers of readers that the industry needs to really flourish. So digital first just makes so much more sense. No self-publishing costs. If you can code and create an APP, well then you can really do whatever you want, any person now can create an entire digital experience, even beyond just comics. You can include anything you want to, including sketches, original script, different formats for different reading experiences. I think once creators start thinking of creating for digital, then go backwards to format for print, well, with that and some hefty promoting of digital comics for a device like the Kindle Fire, I think we’ll really see a rise in readership.

Reilly: Yeah, we always planned on doing something new with it when it came to publishing.  Something unique, and most importantly do something true to the form that we were publishing on, and not one of those web comics that’s obviously made for print even though it’s published through a website where you can’t even see the whole page without scrolling the screen.  It just so happened that Comixology was getting off the ground at the same time, and as soon as I saw how their comics read on my iPod, I was like “this is what I’ve been looking for.”

As far as comics creators who aren’t associated with a big publisher go, it’s just another place to be noticed.  Another place for a fan to discover you.  Any time there’s something new like Comixology, it benefits the creative and ambitious people who are willing to give it a shot first, before anyone else has the chance to learn how to do it right.  It gives you a chance to be an expert at something when everyone else is still green.

You really seem to embrace the idea of digital story-telling, merging panels together to create mini animations and clever transitions to really augment the action, did you plan that at the scripting stage or were you just inspired to do that as you worked through the pages?
Kurt: Like I said, we were thinking digital first, so when we read comics like Invincible and Atomic Robo, we realized there were some really fun possibilities with the fade and panning that was part of Comixology‘s guided view. So before we really had the script set at all, we were first thinking, “How can we play with these transitions to really go one step further and make a digital comic be more than just a scanned in PDF?” Some do just pop up as we go, but mostly those things are planned out ahead of time, then we find places in the script to enhance a moment with them.

Reilly: Both.  Some parts were planned, and others just made sense as they happened.  Also, as I’m drawing, sometimes new ways of utilizing the tools Comixology‘s format offers will occur to me and I can incorporate that into the story.

What are your hopes and ambitions for the book and how far do you think you can push the envelope in terms of the interactivity – is that even a goal or are you just after telling a cool story and making some cool comics?
Kurt: Ideally, I’d love to have Power Play become a brand of its own. I think NYC is such an amazing place that it needs its own equally awesome comic. I’d really love to explore all the different neighborhoods and the characters that represent their hood. I think this is also a concept that would work well as a video game, a cartoon, a live action TV show. I mean, really the potential is limitless, and I’ll be trying to push it out there as much as possible.

Reilly: It’s not about pushing the envelope so much as it’s about learning to make the most of the tools available to us.  No one’s really done a comic before the way that we’re doing it, so it’s a great opportunity to write the rules ourselves.

The next step is to format a version for print.  A lot of people have told us that they want a hard copy, so retroactively putting it together for the printed page will be an interesting challenge.  I mean, it shouldn’t be too hard or anything, it’s just funny to think about doing it backwards like that.

When can we expect a new issue, do you have one in the pipeline? If not, what have you been working on and what can we exact to see from your in the near future?
Kurt: From me personally, I have my first novel that I’ll be self-publishing this year, and I’ll also be delving into film over the next few months. There’s also some stuff in the works right now that I can’t talk about, but very exciting. In the meantime my priority is wrapping up this first story arc of Power Play and making sure it’s accessible on every digital device possible.

Reilly: We had some unfortunate delays after the first issue, and I really want to apologize to the fans that it’s taken so long to get around to the second.  Right now we’re working to make sure that we won’t have delays like this any more in the future.  I’m not sure exactly when the second episode will come out, but it’ll be sometime this spring.

Powerplay is available on ComiXology with the first issue available for free! You can follow Kurt and Reilly on twitter @reillybrown and @kurtchristenson or get the latest on Power Play by following @powerplaycomics or visit their website here.