Tim Gibson, a New Zealand based artist and writer is taking full advantage of genre, digital comics on devices and innovating how a reader participates in the comic reading experience with his debut graphic novel Moth City. Mainstream and back catalogs of comics have been available on computers and other devices via ComiXology since 2009. Webcomics themselves are nearly 30 years old. Gibson is transforming the page and webpage with panel layers and acting to give a more full reading experience. Moth City #3 is available today on ComiXology. We talk with Tim about process and the importance of word of mouth support for independent comics.
DIGBOSTON: Tim, thanks so much for taking the time today to tell us about Moth City! We’re here to talk about comics, mind telling the fans out there some of the projects you’ve worked on in the past? Your name probably scrolled by them at some point.
TIM GIBSON: Moth City is actually my debut comic, I’ve mainly worked as an illustrator and concept designer in the Film and TV industry. The closet I’ve come to working in comics before this was being a designer on The Adventures of Tintin film and some coloring work on The Red Star (Image Comics) when I was working at Weta Workshop (Lord the of Rings Trilogy, The Hobbit, King Kong, Avatar, District 9).
How long has this idea been growing? Are all art projects eligible for funding in New Zealand?
The idea of an entire island under the rule of one damaged man has been with me for a while. There is just something about the isolation of an island that makes bad stuff happening so much worse. It’s been with me for many years, but it was really the Creative New Zealand grant that enabled me to dedicate myself the massive amount kind of time needed to translate ideas into comics.
Completing a graphic novel has got to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
There’s so much work when it’s a solo venture, and the things you can’t do (copy editing, websites etc.) you have to convince talented friends/family to help for the lowest wages (i.e. nil) that they’ve ever worked for.
The funding is really the only reason that Moth City exists in the way that it does. It’s not easy funding to get, there’s a lot of competition for it.
You put forth the strongest case possible, because you’re competing with published authors, people with track records and whole institutions who look to Arts Funding to do their work.
It’s probably safe to say that this book takes place in an alternate history, around the 1930s, on an island in China. There’s always been cowboys and rich tycoons wearing cowboy hats around the world, such as your Governor McCaw. He’s there to weaponize the Chinese army for profit. What else can you tell us about the city?
The island of Moth City shares a lot of features with Hong Kong; it has a highly condensed city center, a towering peak for the elite and scattered fishing villages and docks. There are influences from both Hong Kong’s history, as well as Singapore’s.
New Zealanders, as (still) a part of the British Empire are obsessed with colonization and imperialism. McCaw’s place at the head of his little empire is a part of that.
The populace certainly doesn’t want him there, but they were effectively sold to him as indentured labour along with the island itself.
This isn’t strictly a military or political thriller set in the past, we’re also dealing with murder set in on a noir backdrop. Do the multiple genres come from you trying to build this world from the ground up?
I think there’s a genre-freedom with indie graphic novels that you don’t get with most mainstream continuity work. There’s this great history of genre work in comics, obviously Wertham and the Comic Code did a lot to hamper that diversity, but looking around at great modern titles like Walking Dead, Saga, Fatale or Skullkickers you can see a strong resurgence. I think it’s what we need if we’re ever going to entice new readers into comic book shops. I didn’t plan it, but the four seasons of Moth City break down into genres surprisingly cleanly.
Season One is largely political thriller and mystery, Two moves into detective and noir, Three has some horror and kung fu and Four is balls-to-the-wall action and conflict.
The artwork is amazing, from the character designs to the architecture and coloring. I compare the art to my friends as that ‘inky’ line, such as your conteporaries Paul Pope and Ming Doyle. I also see the Mazzucchelli influence a bit, please take these as compliments — I’d hate to have you walk away from this interview at the beginning! The book is unique in that way, especially with you being the writer and the artist. Where do you start with the artwork, are you storyboarding the comic as you go?
Oh that’s very generous of you to say so, I certainly don’t mind being included in such fine company. I feel like I’m still finding my feet with inking – most of my illustration work is full color painting where the whole goal is to kill ‘outlines,’ not showcase them. I had to spend a long time, and produce a lot of test art and pages, to find that ‘voice’ when it comes to the inks and the colors.
This being my first comic I went about it all in an odd way. I actually wrote the whole thing as a straight narrative piece, like a novel. No page breaks, no panels.
It meant I could easily give it to people for story feedback and they could respond readily without having to learn to read a new format. When I was happy with that, I went through and picked my page breaks and then figured what I could fit into panels.
Of course, with the way my digital formatting works, I often do one and a half pages of illustration to make up one page of comic.
What makes Moth City so incredible, and the reason I wanted to talk to you was the way you are formatting the book digitally. You are using ComiXology to its fullest potential by animating transitions, pacing, dialogue and more. Much the way a director or editor can cut a film, you are curating the way we see the book. Panel transitions are ‘faux’ animated, layers are revealed in Moth City. Could you tell this story on a 9 panel printed page?
Yes and no. Yes in that I create a ‘print page’ of each digital page sequence. I make a decision on the optimal static version of that scene or sequence. I might break a panel that has two digital states into two smaller, static, panels side by side. Or, I might find that one state can carry the story. What the digital form gives you as a creator is more control of the timing of events, like you point out, it gives you the added control of a film editor, and I would also add actor. So much is conveyed in film with a lingering look, or a character who smiles, and within that same shot you see their demeanor crack and show their inner turmoil for a split second.
To tell that in print comics, you either need to use a lot of ‘voice over’ type, or a lot of panels.
Digital gives us that opportunity. Of course, I still have to draw all those extra moments.
Many, including Mark Waid, whom I respect for his Thrillbent digital comics experimentation are praising your innovation in the digital comics space. What more can you tell us about your motivations? I find your approach to be not only unique but innovative in an instinctual way. There’s some programming involved, too, right?
Moth City is the world’s most elaborate, time-intensive Power Point slide show.
My Web guys did some amazing work with mothcity.com in streamlining what is essentially a slide show of more than a thousand images, but you can read Moth City in a PDF and it works the same way.
The main motivation for doing Moth City as a digital comic was an honest analysis of my chances as a debut creator, with no comic credits, getting a publishing deal with someone like Image, IDW, Dark Horse or Oni without bringing an audience to the table. I felt I had to earn a print run.
Once I made that decision I spent a lot of time looking at what I felt was broken in the presentation of long-form webcomics, and started to explore what I could do with the digital medium. I did a lot of research. A lot. Some of my experiments were happening at the same time as Yves “Balak” Bigerel, Dan Goldman and then Thrillbent’s.
I was borrowing stuff from everywhere and anywhere.
Moth City not only defies genre and moves us away from caped superheroes in the comic book medium, but does so in such an intuitive and familiar way, it outshines panel-to-panel digital comics and makes them look not fully developed comparison.
Thanks, I attribute that to our ability as readers to understand genres and tropes which give creators a certain shorthand when we create stories.
It feels familiar because it is, but where we go once you’re comfortable is a different story.
Issue 3 - or Season 2, part 1 is at the ComiXology store today. The price of entry for all three issues is almost the price of one regular priced comic. What can we tell people to go get all three today?
Oh geez… It’s awesome? It’s awesome and affordable? It’s awesome and affordable and I need a new pair of shoes?
Moth City already twisted my head around and shocked me in different ways at the ends of issues #2 and #3. Do you like to end on cliffhangers? If so, you’re really pushing this to the top of my recommended comics of the year.
Yeah, I’m really happy with the twists and turns in Moth City. The world is filled with great endings, what I’ve tried to do, and I think it works because I have this 8 issue arc all mapped out, is make sure those endings have an impact on the following issues.
There’s nothing worse than being left on the edge of your seat, only to come back next time and that problem/drama/twist is resolved in moments as though it never really mattered.
Of your influences, who in your opinion has changed the way we think of the comic book printed page?
Alex de Campi, Dan Goldman, Yves “Balak” Bigerel, Mark Waid and the whole Thrillbent.com family, Scott McCloud, Kurt Christenson and Reilly Brown and the entire world of Webcomics.
Where can we find you and Moth City online?
If you want to read Moth City in nice, shiny HD then you can grab it from Comixology, and you can read it online and check out videos and blog posts over at my site mothcity.com as well as its second home at thrillbent.com.
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