Chicago-based Four Star Studio began when its four members met working for Devil’s Due Publishing. Consisting of writer/artist Tim Seeley (“Hack/Slash”), artist/writer Mike Norton (“Young Justice,” “Battlepug”), designer/illustrator Sean Dove (“G.I. Joe”) and writer Josh Emmons (“City of Sand”), the group has worked on many projects, together and separately, online and in print, creator-owned and work for hire.
Their newest project is “DoubleFeature,” a self-published digital comic available for 99 cents on iTunes, and for those without a tablet, as a downloadable pdf. The comic, which features two eight page stories each issue along with other bonus features, kicked off earlier this month with “Jack Kraken” by Tim Seeley and “The Answer” by Mike Norton.
CBR News spoke with the studio mates about the project, what readers can look forward in this and future issues and the other creators joining them on this experiment.
CBR News: For the people who don’t know, what is Four Star Studio and how did you guys end up connecting?
Mike Norton: Four Star is a studio of 4 (obviously!) artists/writers/designers/programmers residing in Chicago, IL. We specialize in comic books, but among all four of us, we’ve worked across many different media. We’ve known each other for years (since working for Devil’s Due Publishing). Tim wanted to set up his own studio and I went in on it with him. Josh and Sean came in soon after all of that.
Sean Dove: I think it’s been super great for all of us. Being able to work on something and have instant feedback from three other guys in the space to tell you something is awesome or not working at all is so helpful.
What can you tell us about “DoubleFeature?”
Norton:“DoubleFeature” is our idea for original, creator-owned, straight-to-digital comics. Two eight page stories per issue. Each issue follows a certain genre category. We have four starting out – Action, Horror, Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Each comic is 99 cents and is sold through the iTunes store as well as straight to pdf downloads.
Tim Seeley: When we started the studio, we promised ourselves that at some point, we would come up with a project that we would all work on together. “DoubleFeature” became that project, as it utilizes all of our skills and represents the shared philosophy we all have about the future of digital comics.
What are you guys doing here that you don’t normally have the opportunity to do in comics?
Josh Emmons: Feature-wise, our iPad app lets you do a few new things. For example, you can read a page-by-page commentary track by the creators. You can cycle through the penciled, inked and colored versions of every page to see how they looked at different stages of production. Moreover, what we’re really excited about is the opportunity to bring new content to the comics community. The big publishers, they’re primarily interested recycling their old heroes over and over. And that’s great! We’re huge fans of that. We wouldn’t be in this business if we weren’t.
But as creators and story tellers, we have more that we want to give our readers. “DoubleFeature” gives us the chance to tell fantasy, horror, sci-fi — and yes, even some new super hero stories — with all the freedoms that have come to be associated with creator-owned work.
Dove: I think what’s also exciting is, along with those four genres, we can eventually try out some other stuff that is really neglected in the mainstream market. I’d love us to do a romance book at some point.
Are you enjoying working on eight page stories? What’s the challenge in shorter stories?
Seeley: Comics are great for short stories, and I think it’s unfortunate that’s been forgotten in the day of six issue arcs with no payoff.Â I love working in eight pages. It forces me, as a writer, to focus on the most important and entertaining aspects of a character, making for a better value for the comic reader.
Norton: Obviously, there’s not as much room to get across your point in eight pages rather than 20 or 22. It’s fun, though. It’s pretty apparent from the first issue our different approaches to it as well. We both have concepts (“Jack Kraken” and “The Answer”) that these are the starting chapters to, but different ways of setting them up. I personally like the challenge of an eight page story and what you can/can’t do with them.
Can you give us a hint about what kind of details we’ll learn through the commentary and seeing your pencil and ink stages?
Seeley: Readers get to see what we’re thinking when we make this stuff, and the trial and error process that is involved in making it. You get to see us come up with great stuff, but also watch us make mistakes, and our reasons for changing them.
Norton: Much like the commentary on a DVD, sometimes there’s more info about what we were doing that day rather than how we drew something. It’s definitely a peek inside the mind of the comic maker.
Tim, who is “Jack Kraken” and what’s his origin (on and off the page)?
Seeley:Jack is based on a character whose adventures I drew as a kid. He had the rather unfortunate name of “The Gripper” and was sort of a Spider-Man with a jet pack and Mr. Fantastic’s powers. I’ve always wanted to modernize him and continue his story.
Now, Jack Kraken is the main field agent for an organization called H.I.M (Humanoid Interaction Management) that polices the non-human humanoid species of Earth! When ghosts have a territory dispute with mermen, you call Jack Kraken.
Mike, can you give us some hints about your serial, “The Answer?”
Norton: “The Answer” is a comic I’ve been working on in one way or another for seven years, now. It’s a story about superheroes, conspiracies and the world’s smartest person. The super-talented Dennis Hopeless (who is writing it) describes it as “‘The Da Vinci Code’ with superheroes meets Velma from ‘Scooby Doo.'”
You’re not the only creators contributing to this. Who else are you bringing along and why?
Seeley:Mike and I have been doing this long enough that we know most everyone in comics, and we’ve got a lot of talented friends. B. Clay Moore, Ross Campbell, Ryan Browne, Chris Jones, Chris Burnham, Phil Hester — all are contributing to the first round of “DoubleFeature!”
Has the fact that eight pages is a good chunk of story but not so much that it prevents working on other projects, made it easier in convincing other people on board?
Seeley: I think so. It also helps that I think most of the people we know, who work in comics, recognize that the medium is safe, but the distribution model is not. They know this is a good time to try other models and are willing to give it a go with us.
Norton: We designed it with that in mind. We know the insane schedules comics freelancers have. We also know a lot of them wouldn’t mind taking a few pages in-between to tell a story here and there, if only to cleanse the pallet before they go back to drawing Superbadass or whatever.
“DoubleFeature,” which includes two stories, costs only 99 cents. What was the thinking behind that price point?
Emmons:It’s a few things. There’s a general feeling in the community — and even just in the studio here — that digital isn’t getting a fair shake in comics. When you print a comic, you have to pay not only for the printing (which is huge), but also the shipping, storage and distribution… You add all that up, and it’s a significant portion of the $4 cover price. We don’t have to do any of that in the digital world, yet a lot of same-day releases are charging the same $4. Same content. No extra features. Same price.
I mean, record companies would still be doing this if Apple’s iTunes experiment hadn’t come along and shown that a different way could work. “DoubleFeature” is our experiment. We’re going to throw the best creators, brand new content, genre appeal and tons of extra features out there, and we’re going to do it at a price people like paying. We think this is comic’s best chance to really expand digital readership.
Or maybe we’ll crash and burn horribly. But either way, we’ve learned something!
Emmons:We’re guaranteeing two 8-page stories per issue. Actual page count will vary depending on covers, pinups or other little extras we might throw in from time to time, but you can count on 16 pages of awesome story coming at you once a month.
As to the release, we’re submitting the app to Apple regularly, but the way that works is they have to approve it and then put it on the store. That can take anything from a day to two weeks. So we’re a bit at their mercy there. But interested parties can keep their eyes on the “DoubleFeature” web page and follow the Four Star blog. Everything will be announced there the moment it’s available!