Recently, it was revealed that id.ego and Tim Smith III would be collaborating on X: THE UNKNOWN a digital series for comiXology's COMICS app. Earlier this week, I took some time to talk to the project's author about pen names, digital distribution, and kung-fu!
For starters, what is the high concept or premise behind this new series?
This is a tough one, because X: The Unknown is ultimately, a mystery and I want to preserve the big reveal for readers. Basically, this kid, Xerxes, gets dragged into a clandestine struggle over something that if it became public knowledge would throw the entire planet into bloody war. And I know that sounds pretty standard, but seriously, if people knew this secret, the world would go to hell in a hand-basket really, really fast in a very sad way.
Sort of like the novel, Blindness, where if you take away or introduce one element into polite society, they turn into savages. It becomes very apparent early in the story that it is exactly what would happen, but keeping this secret is tricky. What would you be willing to do to save the world by preventing this secret from coming out?
I know, I am being vague.
How did this collaboration with Tim come about? Is he someone whose work you've admired for a while? Was there one particular project of his that stood out and made your say, "I want to work with THAT guy!"
That was absolutely it. I'd seen Tim Smith 3's work with Tokyopop and in various other places. It was a no-brainer for me, he was who I wanted to draw this book. I thought the tough part would be convincing a working professional to jump on board an indie project but once I told him the secret goodness of X: The Unknown, he was sold.
We also really seem to be in sync, he gets the aesthetic I am going for with the characters in X: The Unknown. The look of a character is very important to me. I tend to think it is half of the sale on concept. If your character design sucks then people are not drawn to it. TS3 knows how to make cool looking characters, that are not what one is used to seeing in comics but look badass. I am pretty happy with this team up.
Take a moment to describe how you collaborate with Tim. Do you work full script? Partial script? A combination of both?
Full script. Seeing as how this is for the iPhone, the storytelling is very much driven panel by panel. Also I am very keen on the idea that each panel is no different than a scene in a movie or TV show. There are no long columns or trapezoid shaped TVs, so I take a lot of consideration towards this being viewed on a screen. Most of the panels will be either 4:3 or 16:9 ratio where possible.
We did lay it out so it is optimal for any medium though. David [Steinberger] was very clear about the comics being modular, which I was already on board for. It took a bit of adjustment, but I think people will really enjoy reading X: The Unknown on an iPhone, computer monitor or print.
When is the project expected to debut?
Sometime soon this fall. We just finished chapter one and are laying out chapter two as I type these answers.
How long is the series expected to run?
It turned out to be twelve chapters, which was actually a surprise to me. I knew that story in my head and had written out the plot but when if came down to doing it was longer. Mostly because I like to write fight scenes that are not one punch being thrown and done. I am going for more of a choreographed, Shaw Bros., kung fu action. I feel like comics are short on that for the sake of getting to Point B. I think a good choreographed fight IS Point B or at least Point A.5, y'know? X: The Unknown is very much about good old shoot 'em ups, explosions and fist fights.
As a writer, who are some of your influences? Did you grow up on comics? Or, are you drawing influences and inspiration from some where else?
I did grow up reading comics. Alan Moore because of his sincere devotion to telling a story. That guy doesn't write comics, he tells sequential art stories. Grant Morisson's and Frank Quietly's work is a big inspiration as well. I admire all three because visually their storytelling is so straightforward and digestible. It's totally left-to-right, top-to-bottom and each panel is set as a scene, moment of dialogue or moment of action.
I am geeking a little, I know.
Will we see any of those influences reflected in this series?
Yes. I think I've been belaboring my preferences in storytelling, but they definitely do influence my work. For example I try not to have a lot of dialogue per panel. In film people are rarely talking at the same time in the same shot. The camera goes back and forth. I know why that doesn't happen in comics all the time but it is something I like to try and emulate.
id.ego is obviously a nom de plume. Pen names have been around for centuries - and have been adopted by creators like Stephen King, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, and Samuel Clemens [who wrote as Richard Bachman, Lewis Carroll, and Mark Twain, respectively] to distance themselves from their work or in other cases to disguise gender [Romance novelists Nora Roberts, for example, writes erotics thrillers as J.D. Robb]. Is that the case here? Or was adapting a pen name a means of protecting your privacy in this age where 'Google Never Forgets'?
Actually, it's a play on my full name. Idder Egonwanne. Which I freely admit is imposingly ethic, but how could I not shorten it to "id.ego?" Destiny begged me. But yeah, making it into a pen name is sort of a bait and switch for stalkers (like I'll ever have any). Though at it's core, "id.ego" is what I think about writing, it is an egotistical endeavor. "Here, read my thoughts, be influenced even passively by my view of whatever." I mean you even mentioning Twain and King means they memed themselves into your head. Your gray matter, branded by someone else name. They immortalize themselves. It's better than a statue.
Are you looking to write comics for a living? Or, was this simply a matter of having a story within you that needed to get out?
The latter, I tend to look at JK Rowling (also a pen name) as an example in that I will write and if something I wrote becomes a huge success, I will use the money to buy myself a big home but mostly I have stories to tell and the Internet can now facilitate that without me have to pay for printing.
On the technical end, why take this project to comiXology and not say PanelFly or iVerse. Were their specific aspects of comiXology's app that you found appealing?
It's the best app out there right now. I downloaded the other two and they both had noticeable technical issues either with their reader or backend. ComiXology is a very, very well oiled machine. They are like the Apple of iPhone comics, very methodical about what they are doing and not just trying to rush something to market. I have already read more Walking Dead and Invincible than I would have in print. (Because it was cheaper than print)
And for that matter, why make this a digital comic and not a webcomic or a print comic?
Cost effectiveness and ease of distribution. Webcomics are awesome but digital comics can turn a profit faster, even if that profit is only $1. I don't have to build a site or wait to build a big enough audience to sell ads. I mean honestly, I think it is why we are hearing so much desire for an Apple tablet. It will save prints ass. If you can just download today's NYTimes for a buck, they don't even need ads. Same with digital comics, instant distribution and sales... oh, and more room on your bookshelf.
Mind you if someone offers to print X: The Unknown, I won't say no because people still like books.
In addition to this project, will there be further collaborations with Tim or comiXology in the future?
I wouldn't be much of a writer if I didn't have other ideas brewing. I think when I am done with this, I'd like to do some origin stories of whomever readers like as characters in X: The Unknown and then do two more volumes, because this story definitely has a end of sorts. I may try to do some other comics while working on this just to show my diversity but I am pretty focused on just finishing X: The Unknown.