“We celebrate great comic art in all its glory” Comics legend David Lloyd discusses bringing the best digital comics to the world with Aces Weekly
British comic legend David Lloyd is perhaps best known for his work on the seminal V For Vendetta with Alan Moore. However in recent years he has embraced the world of digital comics, first with his interactive graphic novel Kickback (which earned 3rd place in our Top 10 Digitial Comics of 2012), but most interestingly with the weekly web comic anthology Aces Weekly. Featuring work from some of world’s finests writers and artists (including David himself), Aces is an online subscription comic which has engendered a passionate following (and would have secured 4th place in our poll had their extra votes been included). So we got in touch with David and asked him all about Aces.
Tell us a bit about how you started Aces Weekly. Did you intend to create a digital comics website or was it just a way to publish comics you enjoy?
DL: Started on September 30th – been running since then! It appears every week for 7 weekly issues and then breaks for two weeks before another volume of 7 weekly issues starts. It generally contains 3-page serial episodes or humour shorts. The serials last for 7 weeks at the minimum – stories of all kinds about all things but all great entertainment. We ask practised professional creators in the main to do anything they want to in that 21-page or 3-pager space, and we get some great stuff from giving them that freedom that they might have a hard job finding elsewhere! We’ve had a couple of experimental, radical strips from this policy, too, as you might expect, and they are beautiful works of art as well as great comics.
So, we have a mix of diverse stuff from freedom-loving creators – all excellent because we only ask excellent creators to join us. No-one gets paid up front, the pay is the subscriptions, which are split equally between all contributors after the minimal set-up and running expenses come off the top. Everyone on board knows it’s a risky business – but I think they do it because of that, and because of the freedom it affords them.
On it’s genesis : I’d been wanting to an online anthology for a couple of years before I decided to do it in the Fall of 2011, because it seemed like such a simple way of producing such a thing – get a bunch of folks together to join up and do some stories, put it on a platform, sell it. No printing costs, distribution costs, wholesale, retail… straight from the creator to the buyer with nothing in between to take the money away from us. A collective effectively.
It became a bit of another animal when I discussed the idea with my collaborator and managing editor on the project, Bambos Georgiou, who suggested having our own site and identity was a better idea than being hosted on another platform. I figured he was right – though looking at the amount of work and preparation that decision led to, I often wish that smart idea had been dropped like a hot potato!
The form of Aces Weekly was always planned to be like a resurrection of the serial story weekly concept as manifested by British comics of old, which can no longer be economically duplicated in print form – or by the US Sunday pages. TV weekly drama does ‘ previously on ‘ and deals in ‘ cliffhangers ‘, so I saw no reason not to get back to that form in a weekly comic.
How do you select who submits work to you? Do you handpick the writers and artists or do they come to you with the work they want published?
DL: We’ve had folks who we don’t know approach us, and some creators who we do know. We just value good stuff – we deal in aces – so if we think they’re capable of being that, we’re happy to have them join us, and we’ve been blessed by the results. In the main though, we invite people – and I am honoured that so many creators of my acquaintance, with busy careers and schedules, have had the faith and the guts to take part. We’re still waiting for some of them to join the expedition but they’re still happily signed up for it.
We don’t commission, we offer space – for them to do 21 pages of anything they want, or submit 21 pages of something that hasn’t been seen before. It has to be new, because exclusivity will get us the subscriptions.
The only control we try to have is to make sure creators are not doing similar kinds of stories in the same volume, so it has a mix of material. All of it great is what we want, but all different in the same volume is what we aim for, too.
The work seems to be a mixture of media, do you optimise the artwork for digital, and is it aimed at tablet or web users primarily?
DL: Creators do what they want to do in the way they want to do it – it’s as simple as that. It’s tailored for the iPad, tablet and the standard laptop and PC. Format is always landscape to make it fit a common space across all those platforms without causing tech trouble. We know the tablet market’s the most popular currently but we want to entertain everyone whether they’re on a desktop or a handheld! Artwork’s optimised to the needs of the display requirements current – so we upgraded for the high res iPad when we had to and we will adapt to any other needs we must.
Do you ever put any restrictions on what writers and artists submit and do you offer feedback on the work to help them improve?
DL: Restrictions are only those calculated to make us as universal in appeal as possible so we maximise the number of folks who might want to subscribe to us. We want to be user-friendly to the widest range we can – but within those limits we can tell any kind of story and do, with all the required dramatic gusto if needed, as you’ll have seen from what we’ve done already.
On the feedback point – we’ve acquired a great mix of people who are newly in the field of comic art or are hardened veterans like me, but all the fresher crew know their stuff well enough to need little help from us. The one element that some need to adapt to is adjusting to the landscape format, and the size of lettering needed for that small screen the pages have to shrink to, but folks adapt quickly to those needs.
Do you still enjoy getting out the pencils and drawing comics and how do you feel about the growth of digital art in comics? – are you ever tempted to pick up a stylus instead of a pencil?
DL: I love getting out the pencils and drawing comics, but I like to keep the adventure of art alive in myself all the time, which means trying different things when I can and doing different things and different stories when I can, so the IDEA of playing around with a stylus more – I played with one very briefly in the past – seems like a good one to me of course. But time’s needed for explorations like that and, given the choice, I’d rather spend my time now on the adventure of art that Aces Weekly represents to me than spend time on personal voyages of discovery. And it has to be said that I still enjoy massively what the basic tools of art like the pencil and the brush on the texture of watercolour cartridge can do for me in making drawing a pleasure so even when I get lots more time to play with a stylus, I doubt I’ll be leaving those in a side draw : )
Which stories are you most proud of releasing via Aces and are there any writers and artists you would like to get to produce work for you?
DL: Any ‘aces ‘ out there who are not currently contributing to Aces Weekly, and who want the freedom we offer, we would very much like to hear from, of course. I’ve contacted lots of great creators I’ve admired since we began this enterprise and I was heartened by how many of them responded so enthusiastically to the concept. Lots were too busy to act at the time, and I do remind them when I can that we’re still here for them to take advatage of if they want to. Meanwhile I continue inviting into our pages as many great creators as I can.
And I’m proud of every single story we’ve been able to give space to, and I’m grateful and thankful that these folks have taken a risk with me on something that has never been done before in quite the way we do it, and which has still to get fully on its feet.
Where do you think the world of digital comics will go in 2013 Any plans to develop Aces Weekly into an app and include motion elements ?
DL: Any means of progressing and maximizing our readership for our contributors benefit is always an option as far as we’re concerned, so every moment is a moment in which we may change exactly how we present ourselves. Motion comics? I’ve yet to see one that works for me, and maybe I will one day. But what we do with Aces Weekly is different – we celebrate great comic art in all its glory, just the way it is. And we love doing that, and are extremely proud of doing that!
I don’t know where the world of digital comics will go in 2013 – I just hope its somewhere good and somewhere aesthetic considerations still have a place at the table.
What do you think makes a great digital comic? Is it about flashy extras for the new medium or is it still all about the story and artwork? Do you think some titles go beyond that point and stop being actual comics?
DL: This is too big a question because ‘ digital comics ‘ covers such a wide area – those in Comixology, motion comics, web comics, digitally-produced art in printed comics, those adapted to an app like Kickback. For me, whatever it is, it’s got to be a good use of the medium to tell a good story, however that’s done – but many of the new techniques used in various digital forms have not been around long enough or used enough by people to be developed to an understood practised craft form, so lots of it is, artistically, is like a dogs breakfast of animation and film and illustration. Let’s face it – we all know what comics are, and we know how they work and they have an understood language like cinema. Everything else is something else by definition.
How did you find the experience of working with the Panel Nine guys on Kickback? Did you enjoy the experience of revisiting your older work and sharing it with a new audience by adding in the audio track. And what other titles that you have worked on would you like to see get the same treatment -an obvious one would be V for Vendetta of course!
DL: Oh, Russ was great. Didn’t deal with his crew. But that commentary that everyone I speak to seems to enjoy, was almost ditched from the package, because Russ was a bit disappointed there wasn’t more to say about the whole book – and I would have been content to see it go – but he relented : ) I’m sure he’s glad he did, because it is an unusual extra, and gave me an opportunity to speak personally about Kickback in a way that text doesn’t quite do justice to. A Vendetta book would be very hard work and not something I think I’d enjoy much!
Do you have an iPad yourself and if so what do you think of it as a way to consume and create comics?
DL: We have an iPad as Aces Weekly, which Bambos has at the moment. Listen, I have to stay away from such things as much as I can because such objects of pleasure take up too much valuable TIME in their non-work-performing identity… Yes, the iPad is a great thing to use for us to transmit art with – as all electronic devices of sufficient size to show art with are great. But art does need to breathe – and in that regard I have to say I prefer to see our Aces Weekly pages on a nice, big screen instead of a small one. And, man, have you seen them on a big plasma tv? Plug in your tablets, guys – LOOK!
But yes, small is good, too – and of course anything allowing folks to get out there into cyberspace with their stories and art is great, freeing them of all that constricting, restricting universe of paper print, wholesale, distribution, retail, to reach out to folks who might otherwise not see things created by committed creators. Oh, I can see I’m describing Aces Weekly again…
You have a very active fan base, do you think social media has helped comics fans to keep in touch and spread the world about new titles like Aces Weekly?
DL: Social media is a blessing definitely. I am very happy personally, and as the publisher of Aces Weekly, to have so much support from my friends and my Facebook friends ( and, while I’m here – still need more subscriptions, folks… ).
I think the drawback of the web though is that because it’s so big there is lots of stuff out there and lots to distract people, and lots more coming up all the time ; so there is lots of work that needs constantly to be done to get attention and keep attention, and this is extremely time-consuming work that inevitably distracts from creating the things you’re trying to make to tell people about!
But of course I am very glad to have that interest from folks that I need to work so hard to hang on to… : )
You can subscribe to Aces Weekly via their website where a full seven-issue volume is yours for £6.99, $9.99 or €7.99! For more information visit the Aces Weekly Facebook page or follow David on Twitter @LFORLLOYD or @acesweekly