Dean Haspiel on the ACT-i-VATE Primer

ACT-I-VATE, the web comics community created by Dean Haspiel, is crossing over into print this Fall with "The ACT-I-VATE Primer," published by IDW. The anthology will feature original stories by 18 ACT-I-VATE members and will include an introduction by Warren Ellis. "Primer" will debut at Baltimore Comicon October 10-11 and will also be available at the Alternative Press Expo, where Haspiel is a featured guest, the following weekend.

CBR News spoke with Haspiel about the "ACT-I-VATE Primer," the origins of ACT-I-VATE, and his plans for the community. Check back later this week for a talk with several artists featured in the book.

Haspiel's entry for the "ACT-I-VATE Primer" is a new adventure of Billy Dogma, a character he has regularly featured on the web site. The new story finds Billy on the outs with Jane Legit, and their estrangement disrupts the natural order of the universe. "I suffered an incredibly heartbreaking start this year and what I had planned for my primer story was crushed to pieces," Haspiel told CBR. "However, a lot of art is derived from pain and my primer story, 'Bring Me the Heart of Billy Dogma,' will treat my fans and new readers to a sordid tale of what happens when two love titans break up and the impact it makes on their town, their hearts, and their loins. If new readers like this story, they'll surely like Billy Dogma in 'Immortal,' 'Fear, My Dear,' and 'Sex Planet,' all exclusively archived online, for free at ACT-I-VATE.com."

Haspiel created the ACT-I-VATE community in 2006, first on LiveJournal and then on its own dedicated site. "The creation of ACT-I-VATE was my gut reaction to going full time freelance and drawing print comics at home alone while parlaying with other comics creators on the LiveJournal blogging platform. We'd share sneak-peeks of our various projects and that would spark unsolicited yet welcome commentary from fans and friends," Haspiel said. "After a while, that got me thinking. See, scoring well-paid gigs in commercial comics is a bitch and I was tired of begging editors and publishers to hire me. So, I adopted a no permissions, no apologies policy and invited an exclusive group of like-minded comics creators to invest in their personal ideas and make a group public display for the world to see."

That initial group consisted of Dan Goldman, Nick Bertozzi, Michel Fiffe, Leland Purvis, Nikki Cook, Tim Hamilton, and Josh Neufeld.

"My original directives were that we write and draw stuff we were passionate about and that we post our webcomics on a regular basis," Haspiel explained. "What's great about developing a story in public is that it has the experimental latitude of a community-inclusive beta phase that allows authors to edit and revise their webcomic until the final alpha print version. Dub me old but print is still my favored destination point, but nothing beats the instant commentary a creator can receive within seconds of posting his latest effort. And, now that anyone can publish online, the comics medium has become much more competitive for your readership time and loyalty. Ergo, 'The ACT-I-VATE Primer,' our reaction to the digital age of comics."

Since the ACT-I-VATE community's founding, additional creators such as Molly Crabapple, Roger Langridge, and Jeff Newelt have come aboard. "New ACT-I-VATE members are recruited by invitation only," Haspiel told CBR. "Recruits are invited to submit a proposal for a series for which they are voted on. We often receive unsolicited proposals, which is flattering but which are often rejected. There are no rules to sparking an ACT-I-VATE webcomic except that the creator has to be exceptional and willing to commit to a regular schedule per story arc. We recently added some great cartoonists to the ACT-I-VATE roster which include Nathan Schreiber, Warren & Gary Pleece, Darryl Cunningham, Jennifer Hayden, Kevin Kobasic, and Tim Hall, who is a writer doing text-based comics. Upcoming cartoonists that will debut original webcomics at ACT-I-VATE are Kat Roberts, Scott Morse, Tom Hart, and George O'Connor."

Haspiel continued, "Whether a rookie or veteran of the comics form, all Act-I-Vators furnish what we deem to be our signature works. And, because we can't guarantee that you, the reader, will like everything ACT-I-VATE has to offer, we make sure that ACT-I-VATE keeps a variety of quality stories rotating weekly and that most all our stories are archived in the comics section of the website."

Having noted his preference for print despite the success of his web initiative, Haspiel sees the 'ACT-I-VATE Primer' as the first step in promoting the two media as complementary rather than competitive. "'The ACT-I-VATE Primer' is the ultimate bridge between print comics and webcomics," he said. "The primer was made for those readers that have not yet been introduced to the ACT-I-VATE party. For pre-existing fans of ACT-I-VATE, the primer only adds to the overall experience. Bottom line, ACT-I-VATE wants to get readers to desire print versions of our digital comics. That means we need a print presence in comic shops and bookstores. We now have empirical evidence that the web serves print with ACT-I-VATE examples like Kevin Colden's Eisner-nominated 'Fishtown,' and Mike Cavallaro's Eisner-nominated 'Parade (with Fireworks).' A unique collective like ACT-I-VATE features successful print cartoonists like Tim Hamilton who recently adapted Ray Bradbury's 'Fahrenheit 451' from Hill & Wang; Nick Bertozzi, who recently collaborated with 'The Colbert Report' writer/producer Glenn Eichler on First Second's upcoming 'Stuffed!'; Roger Langridge, who has enjoyed recent success with Boom! Studios' 'The Muppet Show' comic book; John Leavitt & Molly Crabapple's 'Scarlett Takes Manhattan' from Fugu Press; and my collaborations with Harvey Pekar and Jonathan Ames on 'The Quitter,' 'American Splendor,' and 'The Alcoholic.'

"Ever since ACT-I-VATE started in early 2006, it seems that all the major publishers have launched blogs and/or digital archives and new webcomics initiatives but only a handful of webcomics collectives like Zuda and Transmission X have maintained a strong and thriving presence."

After IDW Publishing's "Primer," Haspiel hopes to push more ACT-I-VATE web comics to print. "I conceived the idea of 'The ACT-I-VATE Primer' over a year ago but I couldn't have realized it without Scott Dunbier at IDW, a wonderful introduction written by Warren Ellis, and the immense help, support, and trust of my fellow Act-I-Vators and studio mates: Mike Cavallaro, Simon Fraser, and Joe Infurnari, who beautifully designed the entire book," Haspiel said. "Once folks have purchased multiple copies of 'The ACT-I-VATE Prmer' this Fall and gifted the book to their family and friends, I'd like to get started on a new idea I have, editing together 'ACT-I-VATE Sundays,' a one-shot collection which will, hopefully, include all ACT-I-VATE members.

"'ACT-I-VATE Sundays' is inspired by the Sunday reprint collections of 'Krazy Kat,' 'Flash Gordon,' 'Little Nemo in Slumberland,' Sammy Harkham's 'Kramer's Ergot #7,' those great Marvel Comics Treasury Editions, and, recently, Mark Chiarello's 'Wednesday Comics' at DC Comics. The concept is to produce poster-sized, done-in-one stories under one giant affordable cover. Other than that, the more graphic novel-sized content we create online, the closer we are to considering an official ACT-I-VATE publishing imprint."

In addition to the online and print ventures, Haspiel told CBR that in the coming years he hopes to develop the culture of ACT-I-VATE by making its virtual presence more "tangible" and "social." "We have plans for an ACT-I-VATE Salon, a live reading of the 'ACT-I-VATE Primer' done in the spirit of R. Sikoryak's incredibly successful Carousel series," he said. "And we hope to have a slick cut of 'The ACT-I-VATE Experience,' an intensive video by photographer/filmmaker Seth Kushner [co-creator of the Graphic NYC blog], and his Culture Pop Productions partner/filmmaker, Carlos Molina."

Check back later this week for an interview with several ACT-I-VATE creators.

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