Go back to any panel writer Mark Waid appeared on over at least the past three years, and you'll hear the same thing: digital, digital, digital.
Though he's made his bread and butter in the traditional print comics market, Waid has been working to recast himself as a pioneer for webcomics that utilize the strengths of the web to tell original, groundbreaking stories. From early delivery experiments during his time at BOOM! Studios on through last week's announcement that he'll head up Marvel's Infinite Comics launch, the writer has made plenty of shots across the webcomics bow. But starting in April, he takes matters into his own hands with a new experiment at his homepage MarkWaid.com before a full webcomics imprint follows in conjunction with his friend writer John Rogers.
"In May, I'm rolling out a digital comics website where material will be going up in weekly or twice-weekly installments," Waid revealed to CBR after breaking the news at his WonderCon 2012 spotlight panel. "But before that, on April 2, MarkWaid.com goes live again as a process blog for webcomics and what we're doing. All throughout April, we'll be giving sample material away for free, showing what the format can do, and I'll be doing interviews with pioneers in this field. My own artists will also be there to talk about the projects we're doing and how we'll be building them."
To tide readers over before the ball gets rolling in two weeks, the writer has just posted a new free PDF of the comic "Luther" – a zombie story created with artist Jeremy Rock. The pane-by-panel rollout in that story will give fans an idea of how Waid's new digital techniques will work once he and Rogers' site launches in May. But with his April relaunch of MarkWaid.com, he's looking to do more than document his three-year study of webcomics form, but also will provide a forum for fans, creators and critics to actively take part.
"I want to make sure that fans and professionals both can feel like they're part of the process," he said. "There'll be message board forums and an overall outlet for a free exchange of information. I want to show how I do it and hear how you do it. What have you learned? What do you want to see? It's basically a central site around which everyone can gather and have a jumping on point to make new webcomics.
"I don't think anyone in comics has done anything like this before. A lot of guys have digital comic sites with message boards and forums connected, which I think is great, and a I want to blogroll on them and have them blogroll on me. I think the most interesting thing about this emerging storytelling technology is that it allows us to take control of it ourselves as creative people rather than let corporations take control for us. The only way to do that, as I said in Baltimore a year and a half ago and I continue to say now, is to have a free exchange of ideas. If I'm doing an indie webcomic and you're doing an indie webcomic, I'm not hurting your exposure. Let's work together and learn from each other."
Waid's first big original story once the site launches in May will be an ongoing webcomic created with "Irredeamable" artist Peter Kraus and colorist Nolan Woodard. "This is something that Pete and I have been putting together for a year now – designing it and working on the story," he said. "That'll be updating weekly, and I know John has some stories he'll be launching, and we've been talking to other people as well. I've got a couple more short stories to unveil on the digital site that are one-offs. Like I said, the great thing here is that we get to play. And we get to play with the medium as it is right now rather than just taking print comics and scanning them."
The relaunch of MarkWaid.com represents the end of a long road for the creator. "This is something I've been developing on my own for some time in conjunction with John Rogers, who gets credited obviously for 'Blue Beetle' but also for the TV show 'Leverage.' Years ago, he and I found Yves 'Balak' Bigeral's artwork online and his about comics material where he was explaining what webcomics really are, and we were very, very inspired. We've been driving towards this ever since. We've been trying to get original content up on the web in a format that's built for the web rather than doing what too many webcomics do, which is scan printed stuff, put it up and call it a day.
"I've been actively at this for over three years now, which surprises me when I go back and look at some of the dates on these old e-mails. That's when I first made contact with Balak and started to realize the realities of real-time work, and I started to take on as much industry work as I could so I could bankroll this stuff out of my own pocket. And frankly, I could have spent another six or eight months putting this all together, but I sort of reached a point at the end of last year where I realized that if I keep waiting for all the pieces to fall in place and keep waiting for this digital comics website I'm launching to be absolutely bang perfect, I'd never finish. There will always be new developments and always new things to learn."
Going independent represents a risk but also potential rewards for Waid. "The downside is that it's funded by my own pocket, so there's a limit to how much material we can put up and to how much we can experiment at first. But the upside is that because we're independent, we can experiment a lot with delivery systems, with monetization and with ways of getting the material across."
Waid has been presenting some of his work online recently, including teasing "Luther" in video form, and he has found skeptics as to whether digital comics can work and retain their "comic-ness." "The only complaint I keep getting – and this is all working off stuff people have seen in a grainy video the size of a matchbook on the web – is that 'It looks like motion comics to me.' And I just grit my teeth and solider on and say, 'It ain't motion comics,'" Waid said. "I don't believe in motion comics. That's just limited animation, to me. Balak and I share the same philosophy, which is that one of the essential things that makes comics comics is that you the reader determine the pace at which you read the story and absorb the information. The moment you lay in sound or voices or motion onto that, you've wrested control from the reader. You've taken the leash, and you're yanking the reader along rather than vice versa. And that's just a very limited animated cartoon.
"What we've been designing is new ways to view this stuff where you still get a page turn. That was a huge part of what we've been developing is to find a way to do that, and it was harder than you'd think. I don't want you to have to right click or find a specific place for your mouse to go. I don't want anything to be harder than turning the page. That was our mantra from the start. Whether you're reading this on the web or some kind of device, it's go to be as bone stick stupid as turning a page in a book or magazine. Anything more complicated than that takes you out of the experience."
Check out "Luther" now on MarkWaid.com, and stay tuned to CBR for more news on Waid and Rogers new site as its May launch nears!