Sneak preview | Jim Zubkavich's <i>Makeshift Miracle</i>

After a week of teasers, Jim Zubkavich launches his new webcomic Makeshift Miracle today. If you're getting a feeling of deja vu, it's because Jim first published Makeshift Miracle online, and it has been through several different versions already. Now he is relaunching it with new art, by Shun Hong Chan, and a revised story; it will be serialized for free and then published in print form by UDON Entertainment next year. Jim's Skullkickers was a big success last year, but Makeshift Miracle is a very different story. Jim told us all about it — and shared an advance look at the art as well.

Robot 6: For those of us who weren't reading webcomics in 2001, can you briefly summarize what this comic is about?

Jim Zubkavich: Makeshift Miracle is the story of Colby Reynolds, a teenage boy on his own for the first time in his life. He’s exploring independence, trying to figure himself out, and then he encounters something that will change everything he knows about dreams, desires and his future.

It’s a surreal coming-of-age story. Part Sandman, part Stand By Me with some Miyazaki-esque visuals thrown in for good measure.

Robot 6: If I have this right, the original version of Makeshift Miracle ran on a free site, then on Modern Tales (which was a subscription site) and then was published in print. Is that correct? And how did these different channels help you build an audience?

Jim: The original Makeshift ran for free online in 2001. I posted them up as a way to keep myself motivated and creating pages when I was living in Calgary and working a day job but struggling to stay creative. I didn’t want to create content in a vacuum, so the site was there for show friends, family and eventually complete strangers to see the story I was coming up with bit by bit.

The whole thing evolved pretty organically as I learned how to tell a story, draw comic pages, use Photoshop and construct a website.

In 2002, from chapter four onwards I moved it over to Modern Tales, a subscription-based site. A lot of creators were trying to figure out how to monetize their content to make “professional” webcomics. There were quite a few pros I respected involved with the site so I thought I’d give it a shot to see if I could supplement my income with the webcomic.

The reality was, and still is, that online content is about building as large an audience as possible and leveraging that in other ways, not about subscriptions or trying to lock material away. If the content is strong it can build a captive audience and gain momentum.

Robot 6: How is this version of Makeshift Miracle different from the original?

Jim: It’s been 10 years, so, if I was going to go back and re-envision this, I didn’t want to repeat the same story. I’ve learned a lot about storytelling, pacing and dialogue that I wanted to bring to the material. There are core aspects of the original that work well so we’re starting with those, enhancing them and expanding the whole thing outwards with an even more ambitious story.

Along with that, Erik Ko at UDON and I found an artist whose work on the series is going to knock people out. Shun Chan Hong’s sensitive linework and atmospheric watercolors are top notch. It elevates the whole thing to a new level, way beyond what I could bring to the original pages. I know some people are going to follow along with the story just to see each gorgeous page revealed.

Robot 6: Serializing a comic online is one way to build an audience. Why did you decide to go with the web as opposed to print comics or a digital service like comiXology?

Jim: Makeshift Miracle isn’t the kind of comic that people would rush to pre-order at a comic shop, and I’m not a creator that can get someone to try something based just on my name. The only way for people to get onboard a concept like this and become fans is to read it and bond with it. The best way for us to do that is to give absolutely everyone access to it, confident that the high quality of it will win them over.

When you put material on the web for free you remove all barriers to entry. There’s no impediment to new readers whatsoever; people click, they read and if they enjoy it they’ll keep reading. Even better, they can instantly share it with their friends.

When the printed book is released in 2012 we’re betting that people will want to own a physical copy, libraries will carry it and reviewers will recommend it. It’s a grand experiment and I’m hopeful it will open up opportunities and convince new readers to follow along.

Robot 6: Do you have specific plans to reach out and build an audience this time, beyond simply posting the comic? Do you have any particular strategies in mind for reaching out to teens?

Jim: UDON Comics, the publisher of Makeshift Miracle, has an extensive fanbase through social media and years of high quality books and manga. Right off the bat there are almost 40,000 people subscribed to the UDON deviantART feed who are a perfect fit for our core demographic in Makeshift. They’re already curious about it based on teasers we’ve posted up. Once the story starts to be serialized we expect quite a few of those art fans will want to follow along. That doesn’t count thousands of Facebook fans, Twitter followers and the company’s blog feed.

Beyond UDON’s promotion, I’m going to promote heavily through library channels; local presentations, interviews on library-centric sites/periodicals, seminars at schools. Engaging a teen audience is crucial and the best way to reach them is through their schools and online.

I have a feeling our strongest resource is going to be online word of mouth/recommendations from readers, quite frankly. You can print thousands of posters and postcards, papering the world with ads, but the attachment rate for that kind of advertising is abysmally low. That’s not where teens are looking and it’s not the kind of advertising they respond to. If a friend tells them something is good, then they’ll pay attention.

Robot 6: Makeshift Miracle has a completely different tone from your last comic, Skullkickers. Why do you feel compelled to revisit it now?

Jim: The commonality between both projects is that they both draw upon stories that influenced me growing up. Skullkickers comes from pre-teen years of sword-and-sorcery novels and D&D game-playing while Makeshift is squarely centered on my high school life reading Sandman and manga, trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted out of life. They’re different aspects of me coming through in each story.

I want people to see a broader range in my writing — a variety of subject matters with varying styles and approaches. The important part is that it comes from somewhere genuine.

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