Braving the Elements: DiGilio talks “North Wind”

Defying the conventional wisdom about the damaging effects of offering online for free what you intend to sell in print, BOOM! Studios' earlier this year began offering every issue of its miniseries "North Wind" on MySpace Comic Books simultaneously with the traditional in-store release. The result? A sold-out first issue, increased attention for the series, and a film option. With "North Wind" wrapping up this month with issue #5, CBR News spoke with writer Dave DiGilio about the series and its unusual promotion.

"North Wind" takes place in a new ice age, where fuel and heat are the most valued commodities. Los Angeles is frozen solid, and any hopes the city's citizens have is crushed by Slaughterhouse Joe, a vicious gangster who hordes resources and keeps the populace subject to his will. In the midst of all this, a young boy named Pak comes of age, vowing revenge for the injustices committed upon his family.

Asked about how he went about developing the setting for "North Wind," DiGilio answered that there's a lot of storytelling potential in the end of the world. "I'm a big fan of the post-Apocalyptic genre," DiGilio told CBR News. "From the 'Mad Max' trilogy to Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road,' post-Apocalyptic settings reduce modern man to his most primitive. We all wonder, how would I survive? But in many of these stories, the focus is primarily on man versus man. How we destroyed ourselves. But 'North Wind' comes out of conversations about man vs. the world itself. And when you trade the desert wasteland for a brutally harsh and barren frozen environment, you in effect add a new enemy to your story. Just sitting outside can kill you. And the classic post-Apocalyptic conundrum 'adapt or perish' takes on even more meaning."

This is not to say our hero Pak will not face human adversaries. "'North Wind' is a classic revenge tale," DiGilio revealed. "Pak is driven by a deep, primal need to kill the man who took away everything and everyone he had. But Pak is raised by a Skinrunner --a Shaman-like nomad who preaches the way of the 'cycle,' the idea that every action has a consequence in time. Pak's need for revenge goes against his new belief system, and that conflict makes him a compelling and relatable hero, because he's faced with a very difficult choice. I was just talking with my wife about how it's seldom in life that the 'easy way' is the better way. Usually, we need to summon our strength and make the 'hard choice.' For Pak, that's learning to walk away from revenge."

In terms of format, "North Wind" was of course unusual in that it was released simultaneously as a print comic and free on the Web through MySpace Comic Books. "The dual launch was a big success. The first printing of issue 1 sold out very quickly. I think the online exposure helped develop a following for the book."

With the first issue selling out at a cover price of $3.99 despite being available for free online -- legally -- there arises the question of what incentive the reader has to buy the printed comic. "[BOOM! Marketing Director] Chip Mosher and I have said this before: Comics are a collector's medium. You might sample a book online, but at the end of the day, if you like it, you're going to hit the store and buy yourself a copy" the writer said. "To be honest, we're all sampling books even when we go direct to the retail stores. We pick up a title, read a good chunk of it, and if we like it, we buy it. Nothing beats owning a complete series of a book you love."

The attention around "North Wind's" promotion and the positive response to the story itself has also led the series to be optioned for film. "We've just started developing the feature version of 'North Wind' with producer John Davis ('I, Robot')," DiGilio confirmed. "John is a big time talent and will be a great shepherd as we bring 'North Wind' from page to screen. But the feature development timeline is a long one, so don't expect to see us in theaters next year. Give us two. Three tops. Okay, even that might be optimistic, but the point is, we're going to take the time to do this right."

With "North Wind" completed, DiGilio is now keeping busy with other comics-to-film projects. "Aside from adapting 'North Wind,' I'm adapting another graphic novel, 'The Damned,' from Oni Press, for DreamWorks. People should check out the book. It's horror-noir. Lots of fun. And the movie will be a dark-as-hell thriller. I'm knee deep in the undead. Not the best guy to be around at the moment."

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