Movie artist tells his own cinematic story in 'Moth City'

After working for years at WETA Digital on movies like Avatar, District 9 and Tintin, artist Tim Gibson had a story of his own he wanted to tell -- and he chose comics to do it.

Working on the project in his spare time (with a little funding assistance from the New Zealand government), last year Gibson debuted the innovative online comic series Moth City. Set in a fictional island off the coast of China that's reminiscent of a 1950s-era Cuba, Moth City is a murder mystery wrapped in noir by way of South Asian comic stylings. It's packed with shrewd tycoons, communists and a love story, laid beneath a veneer of soot.

With the first issue of Moth City recently completed, I can tell there's a great story here -- but it's more than that. In addition to the rollicking world Gibson has created, he's also quietly developed an innovative and straightforward way to present comics online that's more than than just printed pages on your screen but not motion comics or stilted animation. Gibson's comic is set up with flipbook-style panel transitions, utilizing movement and reveals to enhance the comic experience without overwhelming it. I learned after talking to Gibson that he wasn't quite sure he could pull it off -- until he did.

"I wasn’t convinced I could create Moth City, but I thought it was worth taking the risk," Gibson told ROBOT 6. "There are some digital comic bells and whistles there, but underneath it’s a story that I’ve wanted to tell for a long time. I did feel confident in my illustrative abilities from being a concept artist on stuff like the Tintin, and I’m not afraid to ask for feedback when it comes to story or plotting."

Moth City is Gibson's first comic, but quite a comic it is. With a busy career at WETA, it's a valid question to ask why he chose to spend time on this relatively small project of his own.

"Moth City has an underlying theme of ‘control’ which is also one of the big motivators for me in creating the work. So many of us spend our creative wealth and time working on furthering the dreams of our companies, and I just really wanted to put a piece of myself out in the world for people to see," he explained. " So while Moth City is a rollicking good ride of murder and intrigue, it’s quite a personal story for me."

The book's called Moth City, but the story is really more about a father in McCaw and his daughter being caught up in political intrigue and espionage, most of it their own making.

"Yeah, McCaw and his daughter are central to the story, and their relationship infects the world around them," Gibson says. "But in Season Two you start to follow some of the other characters; a disfigured killer and his pregnant wife, a straight-backed Nationalist officer from China and some shadowy characters from the communist underground. Spoilers - they don’t play well together… The genres start twisting, the crime and mystery remains throughout the series, but some horror starts creeping in, and when you set a comic against the backdrop of the Chinese Civil War you can expect things to finish with a bang."

Moth City recently began releasing its second season of pages (second issue for us print readers), with new pages going up every Monday.

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