Shiftylook, Namco Bandai's webcomics venture, has inked a deal with Homestuck creator Andrew Hussie to create a dating-sim game, Namco High, that will allow players to mix and match characters from the different Namco Bandai games in a high-school environment.
There's a pleasing symmetry to this alliance: Homestuck is a webcomic designed to look like an old computer game, complete with a cheesy home page that would be right at home on Geocities, and Shiftylook is a webcomics site that commissions writer-artist teams to make webcomics about characters from vintage Namco Bandai games from the 1980s and 1990s. I talked to the Shiftylook brass about their strategy at New York Comic Con; basically the idea is to build up a following for the characters and then bring them into other media, such as games and music.
As it did last year, Shiftylook set up shop across the street from the San Diego Convention Center for Comic-Con and offered an arcade where visitors could play Namco Bandai games for free. There was also an Adventure Time booth, selling merchandise from the popular animated and comics series, and a Homestuck booth, where Hussie himself made an appearance to sign autographs.
One of the interesting things about this whole venture is that it's operating in a sort of alternate comics space. Homestuck has a huge following — I heard that at last year's Anime Expo there were more people cosplaying Homestuck than anime — but unlike Superman or even Naruto, it's not well known outside that group. And many of the creators Shiftylook has hired to make the webcomics grew their own audiences online: Webcomics creators such as Scott Kurtz (PvP), Ryan North (Dinosaur Comics) and Christopher Hastings (Dr. McNinja), as well as popular indie creators such as Jim Zubkavich (Skullkickers), Ben McCool, Dean Haspiel and Chris Eliopoulos (Okie Dokie Donuts). Bringing in Hussie is just the ultimate example of that. It's a bit like what BOOM! Studios has done with Adventure Time and their other children's comics, bringing in talented young creators like Meredith Gran whose fans will sample the comic even if it's outside their usual wheelhouse. (Ryan North is the point where the two universes connect, as he is the writer of the main Adventure Time comic.) Most of these creators made their names outside the standard comics universe of the direct market, Diamond, and even digital comics distributors such as comiXology.
The evidence in favor of this strategy is all over Kickstarter, where most of the big-bucks comics projects, the ones that overshoot their goals by so much that everyone stops to look on in awe, are associated with webcomics (and Hussie's game raised more than $2.4 million). The Internet has created a space where creators can connect directly with their audience, and for those who succeed (a small minority, admittedly), that is a huge and very loyal audience that is focused on the individual creators rather than brands such as Marvel and DC, or even the Avengers and X-Men. Homestuck may be the ultimate example of that, and Shiftylook is smart to bring him on board.