The current state of CrossGen and beyond

[CrossGen]On the final day of this year's Wizard World: Chicago, CrossGen Comics founder and publisher Mark Alessi took the opportunity to talk about his company's efforts to get its comics in front of as many eyes as possible.

Alessi elaborated on the recently announced deal with Clear Channel Broadcasting, the largest radio station owner in the United States. Clear Channel radio stations, which run the gamut of formats from rock to country to talk radio, will promote CrossGen's "Comics On The Web" Internet comics on the air and linking to it from their web sites. "We've got a 70-80% acceptance rate from the stations," Alessi stated.

Much of CrossGen's game plan relies on the "Comics On The Web" program, of which the second iteration will debut in August. Version 2.0 will carry such features as optional word balloons (allowing the reader to see the art unobstructed), the option to see the art in black and white as well as colored, and Spanish language versions.

Alessi also spoke of a new aspect being added to the online titles. "Barb Kessel has been working 70-hour weeks overseeing the recording of voice-overs." Don't expect big name talent, however. "We didn't want to do anything that would take away from the product," said Alessi. He also noted that it would increase the price point. The voices will be provided by local actors and drama students in the Tampa, Fl area where CrossGen is based.

There will also be a division of soundtracks as viewers will be able to listen to the effects tracks and the voice tracks independently.

Also key in Alessi's plan are the nation's libraries. "Any library with a standing order for any of CrossGen's trade titles, even if it's just one copy of Compendia, will have a free subscription to Comics On The Web."

CrossGen is also developing Teacher's Guides and Activity Guides for educators to use in conjunction with Comics on The Web. Alessi explained that "kids will get to read the first chapter of a title and must then pass a basic reading comprehension test in order to move to the next chapter. The company is specifically targeting certain titles to certain age groups with 'Meridian' aimed at elementary school students and 'Sojourn' for the middle-schoolers. 'Ruse' is aimed at high school students because, as Alessi termed it, "it's a thinking person's comic."

"We live in an age of eye candy," said Alessi, "...and this is a merging of entertainment and education."

Continuing CrossGen's initiative to expand its market is getting graphic novels into mainstream bookstores. Both Barnes & Noble and Waldenbooks will be having CrossGen months (in August and September, respectively). Alessi noted that all the major book chains are on board with the notable exception of Borders. "We actually had the highest hopes for Borders," Alessi said. "The thing of it is that if you sign on and it fails, then you're just one of many,....but if it's a success and you're the only one who didn't get on board, then you're a dumbshit."

Alessi also pointed out that one of the reasons that Waldenbooks was attracted to the CrossGen line was the lack of super-heroes. "I don't believe super-heroes are the future," he said. "There's only so many times you can have our heroes put aside their differences to face an outside force threatening the Earth.

When asked where CrossGen would be in two years, Alessi responded with just two words: "Number one."

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