Talk to a dozen different comic writers about what influenced their writing and they might name a dozen different creators in a variety of media, from the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs to the films of Akira Kurosawa to the comics of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. If you ask David Gallaher, he’s likely to mention old radio shows from the 1940s and 1950s.
“It started with ‘The Shadow,’ ‘The Blue Beetle’ and the old ‘Superman’ serials,” Gallaher said. “Later, I started following radio dramas like ‘Box 13,’ ‘Johnny Dollar,’ ‘Gunsmoke’ and ‘Suspense.’ In fact, the works of radio producers and writers like John Meston and Jack Johnstone greatly influence how I write my comics. When I construct a comic, I run it as a radio serial inside my head first.”
Roughly 60 years after “Box 13,” one of his favorite radio dramas, was first syndicated across the country, Gallaher is getting the chance to re-imagine the story for a new audience and on a new platform. Starting October 13, users will be able to download and read the first of thirteen installments of Gallaher and artist Steve Ellis’s new comic called “Box 13” via comiXology‘s iPhone application.
The original “Box 13” was a syndicated radio series that ran in the late 1940s and starred Alan Ladd, who also appeared in such films as “The Great Gatsby,” “Shane,” “This Gun For Hire,” and “Citizen Kane.”
“It is the story of newspaperman-turned-mystery novelist Dan Holliday, who kind of hires himself out as a detective to get ideas for his stories,” Gallaher said. “It was a high-noir, high-adventure series, but it was certainly a product of its time. Our re-imagining of the series incorporates many of the noir elements of the original serial, but with a bunch of John Frankenheimer, Patrick McGoohan, Alex Toth, and Peter O’Donnell added to the mix. There is gunplay, conspiracy, romance, psychological drama, train chases, motorcycle chases, and danger! But, at its heart, it’s a story about rediscovering your place in the world after everything in your life changes forever.”
Gallaher said “Box 13” stems from a hospital stay he experienced several years ago. “On Aug. 26, 2004, I was hospitalized for a period of several weeks due to problems related to a previously undiagnosed epilepsy condition,” the writer told CBR. “In an instant, my life changed dramatically. While I was at NYU Hospital, I also began to experience a series of bizarre coincidences and strange circumstances, which eventually became the thematic foundation for the piece.”
Gallaher said he brought up the idea with Ellis during a late night creative session and it developed and evolved from there. “Box 13” is one of several projects the duo has worked on together. They created “High Moon,” the very first winner of Zuda Comics‘ monthly contest. Now in its fourth season on the site, DC Comics recently published a print collection of this web comic. In addition, Gallaher and Ellis are also the creators of a “Winter Guard” one-shot from Marvel Comics that comes out in December.
David Steinberger, CEO of comiXology, said it was the duo’s winning comic on Zuda that brought Gallaher and Ellis to his attention. “These are two guys that understand digital media for comics, and I knew they wouldn’t be afraid to experiment,” Steinberger said. “That, combined with smart, good storytelling, sealed the deal for us.”
Fans have seen numerous comics adapted from print or the Web into an iPhone-friendly format, but in this case, the comic is being created specifically for the iPhone. Gallaher and Ellis said that that affected how they approached the project.
“Surprisingly, there is a lot of math involved,” Gallaher said. “Steve and I have had elaborate discussions about ‘reading rhythms.’ We’ve done an extensive amount of research on various translations of comics content, panel design and page layout. But the basic process of writing ‘Box 13’ is no different than writing ‘High Moon.'”
“When doing work with the iPhone, I’m really trying to ensure that every panel speaks for itself, while working as part of a greater whole,” Ellis said. “I think trying to negotiate the size ratios is different, making sure that every panel feels dynamic and unique. How much time do you spend reading one panel vs. how much time do you spend reading a page — these are the things we tend to think about a lot when we are composing the work. It affects everything we do.”
Steinberger added that Ellis and Gallaher have examined comiXology’s platform thoroughly and said that he talked with the creators about how they might use the unique properties of the platform to their advantage in storytelling.
“The real advantage to our patent-pending platform is that it supports print page layouts out of the box while allowing for some interesting movement options when you’re writing and drawing with the platform in mind,” Steinberger said. “Steve and David have amazing plans to take advantage of the particular storytelling benefits of our platform, and you’ll see them taking advantage of those possibilities as the story unfolds and the story demands it.”
For comiXology, the project marks the first original content available on the Comics by comiXology application for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Up until now, all of the content offered by comiXology has been repurposed from existing comics from publishers like Image Comics, SLG Publishing, AdHouse Books, Red 5, and BOOM! Studios, and many others.
Steinberger said he sees the move as a promotional one, rather than a move into publishing. “Apple makes us charge $0.99 for our app,” the comiXology CEO said. “We’d give it away if we could, but it’s against their rules to give away an app that then ‘up-sells’ users to buying content within the app. That presents us with the challenge of getting people to purchase the app.”
To encourage users to buy and continue to use their application, comiXology offers about 60 free comics from the publishers they work with, and now free original content.
“Technically, I suppose we are in publishing now, since we’re paying creators to create original content,” Steinberger said. “But I don’t consider us a publisher, and we aren’t doing that as a moneymaker on its own, but as support for our current business. That said, we own all the rights to ‘Box 13’ print versions and various media, but we’re much more likely to find a partner, like Image or IDW, should we want to do print.”
In addition to “Box 13,” Steinberger said several other creators are working on comics specifically for the platform. One that’s already been announced is “X: The Unknown” by id.ego and Tim Smith.
“I’m excited about that one, as they’ve shared some of it with us already, and it looks amazing on our platform,” Steinberger said. He added that he’ll probably show samples of both “Box 13” and “X: The Unknown” at their panel this weekend at the Baltimore Comic-Con.
“In addition to id and Smith, Alex de Campi has something she’s working on, and the guys at House of Twelve will be releasing an original anthology series in the next few months,” Steinberger said. “I’ve also had some very exciting discussions with other comic professionals and fully expect a half dozen projects will release first on our platform by early next year.”