Ellis Takes Flight Online with "FreakAngels"

Warren Ellis has always been the type of comics creator who is driven to find new ways to tell, promote and distribute his stories. The writer's fascination with new technology and the communities that form around it has informed and complimented much of his work over the years.

With publisher Avatar Press by his side, Ellis is diving into a new distribution medium in which he's wanted to work for a very long time -- the Internet. Launched earlier today, "FreakAngels" is Ellis' first foray into the online comics sphere, combining his talent in comics with his penchant for the online world. The SciFi/Steampunk infused story, illustrated by artist Paul Duffield will be serialized by Avatar online at www.freakangels.com with new pages posted weekly. And it's absolutely free.

Yesterday, CBR News spoke with Avatar publisher William Christensen about the business of launching their first ever Web comic. Today, we sit down for a quick chat with Warren Ellis to discuss "FreakAngels."

Producing a web comic is something you've been talking about for years now, even going back to the days when you wrote your weekly COME IN ALONE column here at CBR. How did "FreakAngels" become that project you felt needed to be an online comic?

I just felt it would take forever to do as a print comic. It's a big, open-ended story and doing it in weekly chunks allows me to do it at the speed I like. Print would just be too slow.

Tell us about "FreakAngels."

Do you know the 1950s story, "The Midwich Cuckoos?" It's a famous story by John Wyndham. It's been filmed three or four times. "Village of the Damned" being one of them. Think of "FreakAngels" like the kids from "Village of the Damned" grew up and became disaffected teenagers and 20-somethings. That's "FreakAngels."

Do you have specific goals for "FreakAngels" in terms of reach and readership?

The internet is where science fiction lives now, in large part. It's the place where steampunk lives, which has undergone a huge revival on the net. In terms of web comics, it's the place where comics with big casts, big openings and organically shaped stories live. "FreakAngels" was in my head very much as an internet comic from the beginning because of those reasons.

One thing you tend to do on the internet is reinvent the concepts you tackle….

Well, you know, I control the internet. I actually have the switch! I could turn the internet off anytime I want. Fuck Al Gore! I invented it.

You've really set the standard for a number of approaches online, both in and outside of the comics industry. In terms of comic book editorial columns, while there were those who came before and many that came after, COME IN ALONE really set a new standard for what an online comics column could be. You also embraced the net early on as a promotional tool, setting another standard by which many creators have since followed.

Well, in that case it really was because I didn't want to be going to conventions all the time. Before I first got my internet connection, the only way to meet your audience and interact with them was to go on the convention circuit. You had to do the summer circuit. This was fifteen years ago and there I was, sitting there in England, not making a lot of money, the conventions are a long way away and I just thought, "Ahh, screw that. There's gotta be a better way to do this." And I realized that as I sat there in front of my computer with its then-1200-baud connection that the computer had to be good for something.

Is there a hope with "FreakAngels" to hopefully reinvent the approach creators take with web comics?

No, not really. I have great respect for web comics creators. There's an awful lot of superb work being done on the web that I don't think I could hope to compete with. What I'd like to do is show print creators that it can be done on the net. If I had a goal, and I'm not saying I have one, but I guess it would be to show my peers in the print community that you can do this, not loose your shirt and reach an awful lot of people you wouldn't ordinarily speak to otherwise.

Clearly, there are a lot of people trying to make original web comics, with major publishers like DC Comics launching Zuda Comics on down to individuals making comics on their computers at home, and each has their own flavor and approach. But I wonder, do you think anyone out there is doing it right in terms of delivery and promotion?

Well, there's a lot of stuff out there. I don't know that there's a right way to necessarily to do it. There's the way that works for you, as a creator. I kind of squint at the idea of DC Comics trying to build an internet community based only on what I've experienced on the DC message boards which were so badly managed for so long. I haven't looked at them in a while, but they always were a snake pit. But really, that's a tough question to answer. I don't know if there is a right way to do it. On the internet in general, I don't know that there's ever a right way to do something. There are wrong ways, but not ever one right way.

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