The larger comic companies aren’t the only ones moving to the digital world. Many well-known creators have seized on the opportunity to present original, free, web-only stories. Now a lost but much-admired series is being revived this way.
Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett, who worked together on DC’s Adventures of Superman, have returned to their independent Gorilla Comics project, Section Zero, featuring the adventures of an international adventure assigned to investigate and, if necessary, fight the strange and unusual.
To launch the story, the original issues are being uploaded at Kesel’s site, Mad Genius Comics. The story began with a five-page prologue that was posted on January 2. Three pages will be posted every Thursday and once all the original issues are online, the new material will begin.
Kesel and Grummett spoke to GeekDad about why they love this concept and what brought them back to the story.
GeekDad: What was the original concept of Section Zero?
Karl Kesel: Section Zero is a combination of all my personal, quirky favorite things. Start with equal parts Challengers of the Unknown and Fantastic Four, add in copious amounts of strange phenomena and atomic monsters, stir with high-octane Jack Kirby energy, pour into Tom Grummett’s magic drawing pencil. Enjoy!
GD: I noticed you have a very diverse cast for Section Zero. How did that come about?
KK: Section Zero was created by the United Nations in the late 1940s to investigate unexplained phenomena world-wide — to “Protect Mankind From Everything That Doesn’t Exist” — and has been in existence, secretly, ever since. Over the years, members aged, stepped down, died, were replaced — all of which leads to a rich history and back story for the team.
That’s one of the unique things about Section Zero: the characters age in real time. The three issues we published in 2000 are still set in 2000; when we get to new material, it’ll be set in 2012. The team we had in 2000 won’t be quite the same in 2012. All the characters will have changed to some degree — some drastically — some will be gone, and some new faces will take their place.
GD: How can readers find the original print issues?
KK: I imagine back issues are at the better comic shops. But only the better ones.
GD: You mentioned how much this project means to both you and Tom. How does your collaboration work? Do you talk over the whole concept and then work out the art for a story or is it divided with one focusing on story, the other on art?
KK: Tom and I worked together a lot in the 90s, and for me — well, no one else I worked with came near as close to matching my own sensibilities as Tom. It’s great to be working with him again — I didn’t know how much I missed it!
We’re really just beginning to settle into our work habits, now that the Holidays are over, but my plan is to use the same approach that worked before: I come up with the basic beats and direction for the story, talk it over with Tom, he tells me how to make it better, I write a plot, he pencils, I dialogue and ink. I’m a big believer in whoever’s the most passionate about a scene/character/whatnot gets their way. Tom came up with Sargasso, for instance — and the way the story plays out now, it simply couldn’t happen without him! Pieces just fall into place — that happens over and over again with Tom.
Tom Grummett: Karl and I turned out to be on the same wavelength from the outset, when we were paired up on Adventures of Superman. As a penciller, I sometimes found that half the job seemed to be trying to figure out the writer’s vision. I never ran into that with Karl. I’d look over a plot he’d turn in, and know not just what the visuals should be, but the pace and rhythm of the story. I would often make up my own dialogue in my head as I drew, and find it uncannily similar to Karl’s when the book would come out.
GD: Section Zero is creator-owned and Mad Genius is a website for creator owned work. Do you think today is a good time to be a creator? What are the challenges of creating a digital-first product? Do you think all comics will eventually move to digital, save for paperback collections?
KK: People love comics, and there are more people reading comics today than ever before. They’re just web comics. Nothing wrong with that. The great thing about web comics is that you build an audience over time — a very loyal, loving audience — so when you come out with the paperback (or hardcover) collection you already have people out there who want it! (Unlike traditional publishing models, where you put out a book and hope people notice it and like it and buy it — kinda like throwing the baby in the deep end of a pool and hoping he can swim!)
The down side — and it’s a huge one — is there’s usually no up-front money. There certainly isn’t for Section Zero! But I’m convinced that at the other end of this, when Tom and I finish the story and come out with the print edition of it — it’ll pay off in more ways than one. The future of comics is digital, I have no doubt of that. You’ll eventually see the monthly “floppies” disappear.
TG: It’s a great time to create comics … you can reach a worldwide audience right from the start. We’ve seen the music industry move this direction for a while now, and indy bands have started to figure this stuff out … we’re going to see big changes in comics in the near future.
GD: Are there any other projects ahead for Mad Genius Comics?
KK: Once Tom and I finish this Section Zero story — maybe more Section Zero? There are certainly more stories to tell! And I don’t want to wait another ten years to work with Tom! But, personally, I have other creator-owned properties I’d like to “publish” — and would be thrilled if that involved Tom, too. Mad Genius started with Johnny Zombie Christmas (“A Heartwarming Tale of Yuletide Terror”) and I’m working on another Johnny Zombie story with a different artist right now.
So: endless possibilities ahead.