Digging into Digital: Monkeybrain Comics Debuts on Comixology on July 4th, 2012

Chris Roberson is a new favorite creator of mine, and I've been keeping tabs on the "other projects" he's mentioned from time to time, especially after he ended his DC Comics affiliation rather publicly on Twitter.

Well, working in tandem with his wife Allison Baker and an absolute murderer's row of talent, Roberson's newest project was revealed today and makes its official debut on July 4th, known in America as Independence Day.  It's a perfect synergy, because the main theme of the new project, called Monkeybrain Comics, is the promotion of independent comics that are creator-owned.

In a press release today, Roberson and Co. announced that they are teaming with Comixology for exclusive digital distribution of their new line, placing it firmly within the clear leader of digital comics distribution and giving it a good shot at heavy promotion on Comixology's various apps.

A few quotes from the full release, available here:

“MonkeyBrain Comics was born out of a desire to directly explore what opportunities there were in the newly expanding digital marketplace for creator owned material,” said Chris Roberson, co-publisher of Monkeybrain Comics. “We knew from the get go that we’d want to work exclusively with comiXology, who have become the undisputed leader in the digital comics field with their platforms’ unparalleled reading and shopping experience. And we’re pleased to have so many of our close creator friends along for the ride. I can’t wait to see what fans around the world think about our first batch of releases!”
 “We’re excited to be the exclusive digital home of MonkeyBrain Comics,” says co-founder and CEO David Steinberger. “ComiXology’s mission is to get comics into the hands of people everywhere and we look forward to doing just that with Chris and Allison’s stellar line of creator owned comics!”
The release also has a list of the creators lined up to be a part of this initiative, and the roster is filled with well known names (Colleen Coover, Roberson, Bill Willingham) as well as others who have a strong following on the internet (Chris Haley of Let's Be Friends Again, Chris Sims of Comics Alliance/Awesome Hospital, Adam P. Knave).  The entire list reads like a "Who does Rob at Panel Patter like?", which is kinda cool for me, to be honest.  Everyone from Joe Keatinge of Glory to Matthew Dow Smith from the Dr. Who ongoing is on-deck to participate.

The first comics are due out on July 4th, and the line starts with six, all of which have promo images and pages on the Monkeybrain Comics site.  The titles are as follows, with links to their pages.

Aesop’s Ark by J. Torres and Jennifer L. Meyer
Amelia Cole and the Unknown World by Adam P. Knave, DJ Kirkbride and Nick Brokenshire
Bandette by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover
Edison Rex by Chris Roberson and Dennis Culver
October Girl by Matthew Dow Smith
Wander by Kevin Church and Grace Allison

There's a nice variety here, with age suggestions ranging from 9+ for Aesop's Ark to 15+ for certain other titles.  (Wonder how they picked those ranges?)  I'm definitely going to sample all of them, especially since the price is extremely reasonable, with all but Amelia Cole and Wander being only 99 cents (and even the other two being just $1.99).  I love the idea of a set of fables (Aesop's Arc) and what happens when a villain kills the hero (Edison Rex), which is actually the plot of one of my favorite Joker stories.  There's also a strong fantasy mix, with Wander, Amelia Cole, and October Girl all riffing on the idea of a different world.

But for my money, and this might be due entirely due to the preview page to the left of this text, Bandette is the one I'm looking forward to the most.  A young girl who leads a band of thieves on wacky capers with capes?  For 99 cents, and by a great husband-wife creative team?  Yeah, you've got me, hook, line, and sinker.

There's certainly some questions to be answered.  First of all, can these creators, many of whom have loyal internet followings (I know I'm on the Twitter feel of well over a dozen of the participants), generate enough sales to make the project viable?  Will Fables fans cross over to whatever Willingham does?  Are there enough people reading Kevin Church's webcomics work to pay for a digital book?  Can creator-owned comics with no major publisher behind them (such as Image or Dark Horse) and no paper trail find an audience in a world saturated with so many good comics?

For that matter, given there's no major backer here other than Comixology, will these titles even get sustained comic press?  Do they need it, given that there is quite a bit of internet crossover?  This feels like it will really test the "build an audience online, then ask them to buy" theory quite heavily, especially for any creator who is perhaps better known for things they get for free or the Big Two/Major Indie work they've done.

Speaking of Comixology, I do wonder how their part in this will impact on things.  Just as there are many internet fans, some of those fans hate that Comixology uses DRM.  (My personal stance is that while I prefer no DRM, I am not against buying things that use it.)  They also heavily promote DC and Marvel comics, which this new company is partially a reaction to.  (I know that it's not a direct reaction--I am one of Roberson's Twitter followers, after all--but the idea of this and other creator-owned movements do have their heart in the idea that giving up ownership to Warner Brothers/Disney is understandably unappealing.)  How hard will Comixology push their association with Monkeybrain?  Right now, they're doing a lot, but after a week?  A month?  It's going to be interesting to see how this all plays out.

The last lingering question for me is one of commitment.  If sales slow, will creators give up, leaving readers stranded?  This is something my friend Johanna has blogged about here and there, and I have plenty of unfinished indie comics that I tend to give away after a year of inaction, so it's not like there isn't a track record of this happening, even if it might not be the case for these creators.  Comics are a habit and if certain titles get derailed early, it could be a problem to keep interest up, on both the side of creators and fans alike. I wonder how many issues of each debut comic are already finished?

The last few paragraphs may seem like I am doubting the viability of Monkeybrain.  That's not true.  I'm just pointing out that even as those of who are huge fans of creator-owned comics, digital comics, and people like Roberson, Torres, et all are shouting and high-fiving each other, we also need to look at the fact that this is an uphill road the concept has to climb to work in a very competitive market that is still dominated by those who prefer any old Batman comic to a new concept.  (*I* know--that was me, once upon a time.  I've read Batman:  Fortunate Son for God's sake.)  We as fans of these creators are going to need to do two things:  1)  Buy the damned comics and 2)  Talk about them.  That means less complaining about Before Watchman prequels that some are probably buying just to blog about how much they hate them and more using our budgets and "air" time discussing the things we actually like.

I call myself a Comics Evangelist and I'm issuing a challenge from the Pulpit of Panel Patter to all who are reading this:  Monkeybrain Comics is a great idea, but it's up to US to make it work for Roberson and his peers.  Let's go make this be the thing that, as one of my friends said, could be the move that saves comics.  July 4th, 2012 shouldn't just be a holiday for those of us that get the day off.  It should be for showing that there's strong support for good, affordable, creator-owned comics.  We need to support this effort and give it major, long-term support.  We only have ourselves to blame if it fails.