Tyrese Gibson Causes Digital "Mayhem"

This past summer saw the release of the first issue of "Mayhem," an Image Comics title co-written by musician and actor Tyrese Gibson ("Death Race," "Transformers," "Legion") Mike Le ("Don't Forget to Validate Your Parking") and William Wilson, with art by Tone Rodriguez ("Violent Messiahs," "Angel" Old Friends). The print comic was followed by a digital version, which was released on iTunes and packaged with a single by Gibson titled "Mayhem Take Me Away" as one of the first iTunes LPs when Apple launched iTunes 9 on Sept. 9.

"iTunes 9 is a great iTunes release, with innovative features that make using iTunes better than ever and iTunes content richer than ever," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO, in a press release. "iTunes LP, for example, lets artists share more of their creativity with fans and gives music lovers the feeling of being immersed in an entire album with art, lyrics, liner notes, photos and videos."

And, in this case, a digital comic book. "Mayhem" and the technology used to create ithas caught the attention of technology reporters. "Take a look at the Mayhem comic iTunes LP ($1.99), and it's easy to see the potential of book or magazine sales over Apple's digital store," wrote Fortune's John Fortt. With a digital tablet rumored to be coming from Apple, some are speculating that "Mayhem" may be just the tip of the comic book iceberg.

However, it's also caught the attention of some comics creators and bloggers. A quote from Gibson in a recent CNN article on the digital comic was questioned by many in the comics industry, including Brian Michael Bendis and Christian Beranek.

CBR News spoke with Gibson and Le about the "Mayhem" digital comic, industry reaction to it, that quote from CNN and the second issue of "Mayhem" hitting iTunes Nov. 3.

How did the Mayhem digital comic come about? Did you guys approach Apple, or did they approach you?

Tyrese: I can't get into the specifics of the situation, but it was basically my idea to get "Mayhem" as a digital comic book on iTunes. We got lucky because we became a part of their new iTunes LP launch, and the first digital version of "Mayhem" was released on iTunes in September. Things have been going so well that we're already about to release the "Mayhem" #2 LP on Nov. 3, and it will be bundled with my new single, "Make It Last," featuring Jewel and Babyface.

Screenshots from the "Mayhem" digital LP

Mike: The digital LP is a multi-media hybrid that's a marriage of video, audio, and text into one expansive experience. The LP experience is a dying art - where once the consumer had to buy an entire album just to get the one or two hit singles that came with it, now consumers in the MP3 age can purchase just those singles and ignore the rest of the album. The LP is iTunes' incentive for getting people to buy entire albums again. For the price of the LP, not only do you get all the songs, but animated linear notes, music videos, behind-the-scenes featurettes, etc. In working with Apple, we basically took the LP template and translated that into a digital comic book with "Mayhem."

Tyrese: As a musician myself, I am particularly excited about the LP feature on iTunes. I come from the music world, and I've seen what the digital age has done to my industry. I have a personal connection to the potential of the iTunes LP, and I am happy to be a part of that launch.

Mike: With the first "Mayhem" LP, not only do you get a digital version of the comic book, but with just a click of a button, you can watch the comic book acted out with a cast of V.O. actors (including Tyrese as Mayhem), sound effects, and a full score. You have the option of watching it with or without the dialogue balloons.

Tyrese: It's crazy how fully loaded it is. For only $1.99, you get everything Mike described but also my single, "Mayhem, Take Me Away", which is an international hit and DJ's from around the world have been doing remixes of it. You can see some of them on YouTube.

Mike: Like on a DVD, the "Mayhem" LP has special features like an exclusive comic called "X Marks the Spot," which is a story that looks into Big X's past when he was a young cop on the Sunset Strip beat during the 80's glam rock days. It was written by Jonathan L. Davis, who writes "Eureka" for BOOM! Studios and was a writer on "The Dukes of Hazzard" movie. Plus, there's another mini-comic, a look at an earlier incarnation of "Mayhem" when he was known as "The Enforcer," originally created by Will Wilson and Tone Rodriguez. Plus you get exclusive wallpapers and pin-up gallery of artwork and covers. And then there's "Making Mayhem..."

Tyrese: Right, right. "Making Mayhem" is an in-depth documentary looking at the creative process of bringing "Mayhem" to the pages. It was produced by my company, HQ Pictures, along with Slave Boy Films. We have scenes of artist Tone Rodriguez in his studio and explaining what it's like to draw the pages. Then we have scenes of us at Jim Lee's home as he illustrates the issue #3 incentive cover. Then we have scenes of us at Todd McFarlane's toy factory where he's breaking down the "Mayhem" pages and giving us his rare input. It's got everything from marketing meetings in the back of Meltdown Comics to us promoting "Mayhem" at Comic-Con. It really shows the journey of creating a comic book and how much work we put into it.

There was a bit of controversy when a CNN story quoted you as saying, "[So] I set up this technology with my team and this is the first-ever digital comic book [on iTunes] in the history of comic books."

Several creators and comics sites have questioned that, pointing to everything from comic book applications for the iPhone to the Motion Comics DC and Marvel have put out over the last year or so.

After viewing it, though, there does seem to be something different about this particular release, in terms of the way it works within iTunes. So I was hoping you could shed a little more light on what you meant about this being the first ever digital comic on iTunes.  

Tyrese: That's a misquote. The reporter misunderstood what I said. What I said and what I meant was this is the first time in history that Apple has teamed up with a creator to develop a digital comic book for iTunes. I know there have been many digital comic books way before "Mayhem," and I am aware of other digital comic books that have been sold on iTunes.

Screenshots from the "Mayhem" digital LP

Mike: I know Brian Bendis chimed in on this through his Twitter page. I'm a big fan of Bendis, he's one of the best working today - but he needs to understand that Tyrese and the rest of team "Mayhem" had no intention of disregarding or disrespecting creators of previous digital comics. But we're the first as part of the iTunes LP launch, and you're right John, we offer a more immersive and expansive experience that other digital comic books do not. With over 100 million people with credit cards signed on, iTunes is the biggest distributor of content in the world. The fact that we're the only LP comic book and have been the only comic book featured on the iTunes homepage gives us a major advantage over other digital comic books.

Tyrese: Let me say this, I strongly hope the digital sales drive consumers to discover comic books, which then drives them to their local comic book stores to buy more comic books. Digital comic books do not have to mean the death of printed comic books. I believe they can co-exist and help each other thrive. In this recession, anything that can help bring more traffic to comic book stores is a blessing.

I've seen several reports speculating that this is just scratching the surface of what Apple could eventually do with books, magazines and comics. Do you have any thoughts on where this could eventually go, in terms of moving from print to a portable digital format?

Tyrese: I really can't speak on what Apple has planned for their products. What I can say is that, with every "Mayhem" LP, we intend to push the envelope and give the consumer a different experience each time. And each digital "Mayhem" will come with a new song by me, so that helps to bridge the gap between my music fans and the comic book fans.

Mike: The future is digital and cross-platforming. There's no denying that. We're just excited to be in the front of it instead of behind it.

What was it like working on the voiceovers for the main character?

Tyrese: I really thought it was going to be a simple thing where I step into the vocal booth and knock out my lines in an hour. But Apple brought in professional ADR directors and producers - people who worked on big projects like "Madagascar" -- and they pushed not only me, but the rest of the cast, to bring out more during our performances. You can see some of this in the "Making Mayhem" documentary. I'm also really happy to have my real life pastor, Bishop Ulmer, playing the role of Preacher Percy. He's been a great inspiration in my life, and to have his spirit and presence on "Mayhem" means everything to me.

Mike: These recording sessions are really intense because voiceover acting is an art within itself - and that means directing voiceover actors is in and of itself a different type of art. 85 percent of communication is non-verbal, so most actors are trained to convey their emotions through body language. But with V.O. acting, it's all verbal and knowing when to play it big and knowing when to dial it back for texture and inflection. It was exciting to be part of this process - to be in the recording studio and help direct the actors.

What's the reaction been to the release on iTunes? Do you know how many have been downloaded? And how have fans of your music who downloaded it to get the single reacted to the comic?

Tyrese: I don't have the hard numbers yet on how many have been downloaded, but I can say that we're the second-best selling iTunes LP, only behind Jay-Z. We're also available in 38 countries, so "Mayhem" has a global reach that most other comic books do not.

Mike: The most interesting feedback I got was from Jonathan Davis, who wrote the bonus comic, "X Marks the Spot." His girlfriend watched the digital comic book version of "Mayhem" - with the voice actors and sound effects -- and her response was, "Oh, now I understand the pacing of a comic book." I think a lot people don't read comic books, outside of thinking of them as trivial or just for kids, because they don't understand the "language" of sequential art. Experiencing the digital version of "Mayhem" for the first time is a great introduction for non-traditional comic book readers.

Tyrese: You know I'm very active on Twitter. I'm the Twitter King! I read all the feedback from my fans, and they are going crazy over it. We've gotten media coverage from big outlets like CNN and Fortune Magazine, so I'm constantly getting calls and emails about it. I did a press junket at the Apple Store at The Grove here in Los Angeles - and that was the first time Apple has done anything like that. So I am very grateful and thankful for everything Apple has done to help get the word out on "Mayhem."

Are there any other plans at this point to make Mayhem available in the digital world outside of iTunes (Kindle, video game systems, etc.)?

Tyrese: I am always thinking big picture and ahead of the curve. I can't get into details, but I promise you more "Mayhem" is on the way. We've surprised a lot of people with the moves we've made with "Mayhem," and we'll continue to surprise people. Just wait and watch.

After the current Mayhem series wraps up, do you have any plans for a sequel, or for any other comics work?

Tyrese: Yes, we have some interesting things in development. We're wrapping our heads around the next "Mayhem" story arc. I can't say too much about it other than it will delve deeper into the history of Preacher Percy's character and the origins of his connection to Mayhem. Our company, XiT ComiX, I also developing a comic book called "Love Sick," it's a romantic story geared towards my female fans. Mike: Don't forget about "Knemis."Tyrese: Right, and "Knemis." We're in talks with a major publisher right now to partner up on another on that title. That's all I can say for now. I can't give up all my secrets at once.

Tags: image comics, tyrese gibson, itunes, mayhem, mike le

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