BCC: The ACT-I-VATE Experience

As one of the last panels from this past weekend's Baltimore Comic-Con began, it seemed as if someone had made a bet to see how many comic creators could fit on to one of the panel room stages. Though the full stage was due to massive contingent from webcomics collective ACT-I-VATE and not crazy con bets, it turns out the answer is ten.

The decade of creators who took the stage included Kevin Colden ("Fishtown"), Simon Fraser ("Lilly MacKenzie & The Mines of Charybdis"), Jennifer Hayden ("Underwire"), Tim Hamilton ("Adventures of the Floating Elephant"), Michel Fiffe ("Panorama"), Kat Roberts ("Fever Dream"), Jim Dougan ("Sam & Lilah"), Joe Infurnari ("Ultra-Lad"), Mike Cavallaro ("Loviathan") and the man who conceived of the ACT-I-VATE collective, Dean Haspiel ("Billy Dogma").

The many ACT-I-VATE creators were on hand at the con to promote their new print anthology "The ACT-I-VATE Primer," which features 16 original stories that tie in to ongoing comics sagas on their site ACT-I-VATE.com. "The Primer" debuted earlier than it's October 14 launch date for con-goers. The group was also there to premier a 32-minute "promomentary" entitled "The ACT-I-VATE Experience" about their online haven for personal comics projects that had been put together by Seth Kushner (Graphic NYC) and Carlos Molina from Culture Pop Productions and announce a new series of strips by a well-known creator that would be popping up on their site soon.

"Basically, we've been doing ACT-I-VATE for two and a half, almost 3 years now and every day - or weekly - [we] post new, free comics online," Haspiel explained in his introduction. "It started off with six or eight people and grew exponentially to about 40 members. We use this site as a way to deliver our signature works. That doesn't mean that the other stuff that we do for pay or for other companies, that we don't do our best works on those as well, but these are our babies."

After introductions, the creators - who had yet to see the film themselves - joined the audience to view the piece.

Beginning with a montage of art from ACT-I-VATE, the film is segmented into three parts, each of which is filled with testimonials from more than 20 of the ACT-I-VATE creators. The first chapter acts as an introduction, where the many faces you'll be hearing from introduce themselves and their diverse, signature ACT-I-VATE work. The second part explains the origins of ACT-I-VATE and why the different creators enjoy the format of their collective, while also discussing the benefits that go along with the online medium and its readership. The final part of the video highlights "The ACT-I-VATE Primer," during which Haspiel explains that the primer is a great introduction for comic fans who haven't checked out the site, while containing entirely original content that can't be found online, so folks who have been keeping up with all ACT-I-VATE has to offer can get a new fix in print form.

"I believe 'The ACT-I-VATE Primer' is the ultimate bridge between print and webcomics," Haspiel said in the film.

The film will be airing at Haspiel's spotlight panel at this coming weekend's Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco, Brooklyn's King Con on the weekend of November 7 and 8 and at Quimby's Bookstore in Chicago (tentatively scheduled for November 13). The film will then be made available online around Thanksgiving, according to Haspiel.

Though the film is admittedly a promotional tool for ACT-I-VATE, the interviews it features are chock-full of thought-provoking sentiments and information that fans of webcomics or comic readers that haven't given webcomics a shot should find interesting.

"It's also a place that makes you bring your 'A' game," Leland Purvis ("Vulcan & Vishnu") said in the "promomentary" of ACT-I-VATE's ability to make him strive to better his work. "I've gotta make sure [my ACT-I-VATE work is] really the best I can do. And, you know, in a lot of other areas in our lives, we do enough to get by. [But] with ACT-I-VATE and my peers right alongside me, you really have to do your best."

"You can't put ACT-I-VATE under one genre," the film quoted "Sleazy Pizza" creator Ryan Ramon as saying. "You can't say, 'Oh, they're a sci-fi group.' It's just a lot of complicated, crazy stuff."

"Webcomics are the future of serialization. It's as simple as that," Colden explained in the film. "Independent creators have no reason to publish [print copies]. It's basically a money-loser. Anyone you talk to who has published their own [printed comic] has lost money. But, with webcomics, you can distribute to an infinite number [of readers] and you don't have to put any money into it up front."

"I know there are a lot of success stories in self-publishing, but most of us who've published that way...we don't really make money," Cavallaro said in the film. "So, if you just accept, that the best thing is [I] put some money in this and I know I'm not gonna make it back. As soon as you accept that, then what are you really doing? What you're really doing is, you're trying to communicate and reach people. So, in that case...you might as well choose a model that helps you reach the most people and gets the most exposure for your art."

After the film, the panelists retook the stage for a few comments.

Haspiel, who informed the room that he likes to make an announcement at every panel he participates in, said that ACT-I-VATE would have a new name posting content on the site soon, when "Too Much Coffee Man" creator Shannon Wheeler will be bringing his rejected "New Yorker" comic strips to the collective.

Dougan also announced that the third chapter of "Sam & Lilah" would be beginning today (October 12) on ACT-I-VATE.

"What we're offering is hours and days and weeks worth of free entertainment - no strings attached, no advertisements - for the pure enjoyment of comics in a variety of genres," said Cavallero as he broke down the ACT-I-VATE mission. "And you know, if you're interested in writing or drawing or creating, it's a really cool spot to see what other people are doing and how other people are making comics and experimenting with comics. Stop by."

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