David Lloyd: Establishing the Currency of Digital ComicsA comics interview article by: Jason Sacks
David Lloyd was the artist on one of the best-known and most-loved graphic novels in history, V For Vendetta. For that series, illustrated a quarter-century ago, Lloyd created a set of motifs that has become part of the world's iconography. As we speak about in this wonderful interview, the Guy Fawkes mask and world that V inhabits has come to symbolize so many interesting aspects of everyday life today – and also has served to give Lloyd the chance to take opportunities in his career that might not have come his way otherwise.
Among those opportunities is his new venture Aces Weekly, an ambitious digital comics anthology released on a weekly basis to subscribers, featuring outstanding comics art by some of the "ace" artists from all around the world. You can read Lloyd's passion for the project – and for digital media in general – in this interview.
I hope you enjoy this conversation with Lloyd, as he works to help create a future for comics that doesn't necessarily include paper as their delivery mechanism.
David Lloyd: Everybody uses a computer, and everybody's got an iPad, or whatever, and they're used to streaming video and using their devices for all kinds of pictorial reasons of displays - so why not for comics? But getting comic fans to try digital comics is tough. It quite surprised me after I started Aces Weekly that there wasn't an immediate mass transfer of interest from paper to the screen even though we had a great initial response from a fortress of subscribers . When I tell people about Aces Weekly, especially at conventions and stuff, I'm always saying to people "Look, this is just great comic art except it's on screen not paper." That's it. It's the same thing. When you talk to people in a situation like that, it makes some difference, and they can recognize it. You make some headway. But this is a tough market to make a mark in and I wish it wasn't so tough.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: It's a really strange kind of transitional point feels like we're at. There are companies like Monkeybrain that have a decent eBook business, but at the same time they're also producing hardcopy books which are getting much more reception and many more reviews.
Lloyd: Yeah, a lot of people doing this are hedging their bets. I don't want to do that. The way I figure it, you've got to make a currency out of digital comics-- and that's the key thing -- they've got to have a value of their own. Standalone. They can't be preview for print - they can't be a second-rater and a second run of paper - as in the case of Marvel and DC re-runs on Comixlogy. Apart from some of the things they play around with - the motion comics and things - digital is just another income stream for them. But digital comics has to be its own currency. It has to succeed on its own and that's what I'm trying to do. If we're always going to end up depending on paper all the time, then we'll never free ourselves from the burden of it.
This is the 21st century. Years and years ago when you needed to get an image out there, you needed to print something to get it to the people. You had to use a printing press, but you don't need that anymore. You've got computers, and iPad, and the Internet. You really don't need that old stuff. But we're still so dependent upon it. And it eats up a lot of resources, which is another insane thing about it.
With Aces Weekly we go directly from the creator to the buyer, and the buyer's income comes directly back to us. It doesn't get bled off into any other areas in a completely unnecessary way. It's just common sense there. It's a logical argument, but it's not cutting quite enough ice with the people who are buying.
CB: Like I mentioned, I work in eBooks and it's been one of the most fascinating transitions to see how quickly eBooks in general are adopted. Amazon for an example had a smash hit with Kindle. They have reached their market saturation, but it's only to a certain point. Even with their text-only books, let alone with their graphic novels and such. It seems that there is some way a ceiling where it's not that much of a generational thing as much as it is the perception. I mean, comic fans tend to be a kind of conservative group anyway - you know, we only want Batman done a certain way.
Lloyd: Yes, that's interesting. In America, some folks do appear to develop their tastes very quickly and stick to them. Whereas in England there's a tradition of accepting anthologies and such. But there's a strong strand of conservatism in comics in both national groups. I don't know. Maybe it comes out of that whole "clubby" thing. Comics has always seemed like a special club and I think that "clubbiness" makes people want to stick together - to hang onto what they've got. They value their exclusiveness, their outsider status. Especially in the situation where we're all - any of us reading them, in the biz, or around it - still labelled ' geeks ', really. Resisting universality gives some kind of succour. But if we can reach out to a wider audience we can spread the love and not need to keep it to ourselves!
CB: I think you're kinda putting a finger on where my hope is. Just as we've had the wave of graphic novels that have been just accelerating over the last few years, and broken through on some level that wall of conservatism. Maybe that's where the hope is with digital where it almost becomes a generational thing.
Lloyd: Yeah, and the thing about "graphic novels" is it solved an image problem that we had. For a long time before Aces I'd been railing about the very term "comics" because it's got a lot of baggage attached to it. But it's the common term, the common language folks understand. So when I started selling Aces, I needed to call it what it could be clearly perceived as - a digital comic art magazine - because it's an understandable description to the folks who might be attracted to it. You have to communicate simply if you're selling something. You have to use the common language, you can't try and change things there and then.
I was always a champion of the term sequential art. It paints a much bigger picture to a general public audience of the variety of subject, and possibilities of achievement, in the medium than 'comics' does. The term graphic novel came along by accident and did that. It got used occasionally, and then was used conveniently by book publishers because they wanted an image that was closer to their own. So they started using it and then it got traction, and now it's commonplace in the market.
It's given the whole field a better image and it's attracted more people to it. The big problem about a word like "comics" - as with any terminology that has baggage - is that it becomes a barrier to those who perceive it as representing that baggage. It dissuades the curious, restricts growth.
I mean comics have been fighting this problem for years. I felt this years and years ago. That's why I got rid of sound effects in Vendetta, because sound effects are things in comics that immediately put people off who don't usually read comics. So one of the ways of changing things and upping the game a bit to get more people to read them and appreciate them, was to get rid of them. Which is why I did that in V. As well as some other things.
But some things you can't change, some things sit there like concrete and can't be moved. I hope you're right - that it is a kind of generational thing and as time goes by things will change. It's what happens. I hope we don't have to wait too long for it, though.
CB: Over beers I think at San Diego last year, I was talking to some friends about this topic and somehow the idea kind of went from "We're at this point now that's not too dissimilar to film about 1939" where we had the whole genre of silent film which was its own thing, and that was comics up until actually the few of area that V represents, and then we hit this explosion when sound came in which was and that was V, Watchmen, Maus and everything that came after it, and now we're almost at this point where you know back in 1939 when all these amazing movies came out and suddenly there was this idea of film as film, as opposed to a stage play that spawned film so to speak.
Lloyd: That's an interesting analogy there. Digital comics will develop their own identity in the same way I hope.
CB: Yeah we're transitioning everywhere. I think that it's something that you're wrestling with Aces also. And the storytelling you're presenting is on a horizontal page, which is an interesting design paradigm, I'm sure.
Lloyd: It's to the ratio of the screen. I remember first seeing comics on the web where they had them like an opened portrait-format comic, with a fake page-flip effect! What's the point of that? It's on a computer screen! Ours fits its place! And re the creator reaction to the format : when we started off, John McCrea was a bit concerned about that landscape space, but when he started working on it he found he was very happy with it. It gave him a lot of freedom. He'd never worked on something like it before, and, you know, there is an airiness to the landscape shape. Portrait is really sort of narrow, narrow and tall - a lot of our creators have found the landscape format refreshing. To myself it was never any trouble because I always saw it as a double page spread. That's how I saw it and used it for my bit in Volume One - Valley of Shadows. It was just a convenient double-page spread I could get a lot of story into.
But our creators are given freedom to do whatever they like. That's part of the deal. That's one of the reasons why they're attracted to it - they can do whatever they like within that format. We've had terrific stuff and I couldn't be more pleased with what they've come up with. We've got an incredible mix that you'll find nowhere else, in any comic magazine anywhere.
CB: It kind of struck me how like the Paul Maybury story is very abstract and requires a lot from the reader. Your story is much more of a crime-fiction type story, there's the Thrudd the Barbarian story which is kind of loose and silly. Roger Langridge of course is doing his type of thing and it's all creator driven.
Lloyd: Yeah, absolutely. One of the great things about when you say to people, "You can do whatever you like", which is what I do - is that it frees them creatively. And a lot of these guys have been doing franchised characters happily for years, but on Aces Weekly they can do what they want - their pet projects and ideas, whatever. I mean, when Henry Flint joined us, I thought he'd do something like he'd done on 2000 AD, but he comes out with this incredible thing, Catalyst Island. It's like cave paintings, and it's just amazing. Just incredible stuff, and it's just one of the things that makes us a great mix.
So I'm extremely happy with what we've got and what we run. And I'm glad so many people have responded to it so well - I just want more people to do so!
CB: That's the problem these days though, there's so much good material out now that it's hard to make your own place. I guess one of the ideas of having a weekly book out to have something in the hands of people all the time and stand out?
Lloyd: Well, the concept is really like the Sunday pages, which of course are weekly - where you have a mix of serials with continuing episodes and short humor pieces, too. It's also a kind of resurrection of what the British weeklies did for quite a while, though not now. Those anthologies were very good and creative things at their best.
Aces Weekly runs in seven-week volumes that total up to 210 pages with the extras - and because we don't have to print we don't have to worry about page count - we can put in as many extras as we want to. This is the great thing about the digital world. There's no need for print costs and seeing how much paper we can afford to buy and sell and ship and warehouse. We can just put in it whatever we've got to put in it, and it's an incredible, incredible amount that we do.
We recently put two collections together: Before the New York Convention, we put a PDF sampler together for the press, which was volume-size and looked amazing when you saw all of the stories of a 7-week run together. And recently we compiled Volume One as a complete PDF for Comixology because we'll be on that platform very soon. It's an incredible amount of great material. And for what? $9.99 - just over a dollar every week. It's a steal. Really.
So it's great stuff from some of the best in the business, and it only costs you ten dollars a 210-page volume. You couldn't get a better bargain anywhere.
CB: And all new material, too. It's not that you're repackaging Kickback or something like that, either.
Lloyd: No, but that's a good idea, actually (laughter). Yes, it is all new material apart from a couple of things that were printed before - though not in the mainstream. We've got one running in volume 8 right now - a short story called The Damned, which was published just once in Argentina. But that was presented to me, and I just thought it was such a great story. And the author of that, Jok, is going to do a completely new story for us, which I hope will begin in 9 which will continue onward. But that story was so beautifully done.
CB: That's the Jock from Losers who's working on Wolverine now?
Lloyd: Oh, no! This is Jok. A great Argentinian artist. Not Jock who did The Losers.
CB: Okay. It's interesting because also a way that the industry is evolving is that nothing really ever goes out to print. It's been interesting, our site has a subscription to Comixology Submit, and we get a full spectrum of what they release. I'd say maybe 10-20% of that is either a small press or even stuff from professional creators who have seen their work fall out of print. It's fully owned by them so they just put it back up there as a way to fully recover a few extra sales. Like Roy Thomas's Alter Ego mini-series from the '80s is up there. If there is anyone out there who won't represent the small press it's Roy Thomas. But at the same time he's sharing the platform with some guy who's produced his self-published comic. Which is fascinating in the way it demonstrates the democratization of the world.
Lloyd: Right, well, that's the interesting thing about it. We can all get out there, and we should if we want to. But not for nothing.
One of the problems we have re Aces is the resistance from fans to digital that I spoke of earlier, but another one is that because there's so much comics product on the web that's free, lots of people just expect all comics on the net to be free. Or expect them at a ridiculously low price.
One of the things I really want to hang onto, and not be forced to change, is to charge a decent price. I mean, we're charging as good a price as we can right now - tailored to reach the most with most fairness - but I see a lot of stuff being given away free in its digital form, and then charged for in print. In my view that's crazy - because the point is, the story and all the art and everything is there to see and read in digital. It's available to readers on a screen. So at the end of the day people are just paying for printing. So why? It's just totally insane.
We've got to establish the currency of digital comics, and not lean on print. It's like being hooked on drugs. If you try to wean someone off heroin, the best thing to do to get them off and never give them a little taste again, because they'll never kick the habit. They'll just keep on wanting it!
We need readers to be happy with their stories and art being delivered to them directly and easily and at their fingertips, and not go the route of unnecessary printing presses, distributors, and warehouses. It's just a totally crazy. And one of the things I'm always emphasizing to folks is how great Aces Weekly looks on screen instead of paper. We never have ANY printing problems - even some of the best printed comics I've seen recently don't have that luminescence that's achievable on the screen. They don't have that beauty, and sharpness, and clarity that you get on a screen.
And all TVs are smart now. So you can put Aces Weekly up there on your forty-inch plasma, on your wall, which, again, looks fantastic - even better. You're not going to get that art and story looking as good as that in any book.
Anyway, you can see how passionate I am about it, and how I want it so much to work as well as it deserves to work, and reach the audience it should - it's just a matter of keeping pushing and seeing if we can break that barrier.
CB: It's hard because like you I make my living in eBooks and this weekend we were out just on a quick vacation and as I tend to do I wandered into a book store and found a great bargain price on a collection of classic Marvel Comics. Now I have a Marvel Unlimited app which gives me the ability to read anything that's been published by them since almost everything since the '60s. Certainly the book that I ended up buying was on there. But for some reason I felt compelled to buy the physical object.
Lloyd: Well, I guess, yeah, I completely understand that. I mean, I was brought up on physical comics. But - I appreciate the quality of reproduction of great art and I just love the way what we do looks on screen. I felt that way back the first time I saw any of my art reproduced on a computer screen. And I can honestly say that there's no... I'm trying to think of a comic book that I've got that I think is as great-looking as a book as would look on screen - but there isn't one.
CB: Yeah the only thing that I can really think of are like the comics reprints are what IDW puts out where you benefit from having the large size of the Dick Tracy strips or whatever.
Lloyd: Of course, well that is a completely different object, isn't it, I mean I've seen them. I haven't bought one. Listen, I'm trying to sort out my bookshelves right now. I'm not buying any more - I'd have to move to get myself more space. I haven't bought one of those big books, but I do think they're extraordinary. But that's taking comics to a different level and market; in fact, that's more like what I'm trying to do. When you buy those - when you see those - you look at the art and you think "My god, that's art" and it's the size that makes that difference in effect. You know?
One of the other things I mention when I'm talking about Aces to folks is Roy Lichtenstein. He's a guy who realized how great comics looked when you blew them up. So he blows them up, and gets thousands and thousands of dollars for doing it, and it's the same basic thing that was on the page he copied them from, except it looked great because he blew it up. He knew about the power of what we can do and exploited it. And we can learn that something from him that he's shown us, and present all our art now on a bigger screen to enhance its power. I've got a promotional video that's being put together right now, and one of the things that I want to do in it is demonstrate that ability to enlarge and enjoy to the max what we do at Aces Weekly. Stand in front of a big plasma screen and show people how great it all looks on that. It's something we haven't had the opportunity to do enough thus far but we'll be doing more of it.
CB: You've got me intrigued now. I can beam to my TV using Chromecast and I may try reading the comics on Chromecast.
Lloyd: That's right. You can!
CB: You sold me on it, David! Do you mind if I ask you a question about V for Vendetta?
Lloyd: No no, carry on. You can ask me anything you like.
CB: Okay, because it's interesting that I had the opportunity to spend some time with Dave Gibbons a couple years ago at San Diego, and he's kind of in the same position as you where he has a massive success now, what about 25 years ago? that in some way kind of overshadows everything also that he's done in his career. Which has been quite a bit, as have you. This many years on, did you kind of look at it as a blessing or as some way a curse to be involved in a project like that? How do you feel about how that kind of overshadows your other work in some ways?
Lloyd: Well, I'm not concerned. I can use the reputation I have to actually sell what I'm doing now - which is the great thing about being connected with something like that. It's your reputation. It's your calling card. Everybody knows your reputation. Everybody knows who you are. If I just use my name, it doesn't make quite as much influence, though. So I always use "David Lloyd : Creator of V for Vendetta" blah blah blah. But, no, that's good for me. It has weight to persuade.
As long as I can use it to sell what I'm doing next - what's important to me next. Of course Vendetta is still massively important to me - personally as well as important as credentials. It's meaningful, it's symbolic, profound, and I'm very glad I did it. Well - I was responsible for it happening. It's just great what has happened from that creativity of ours, and from the movie - the use of the mask and everything, that's all fantastic and I have no problem with it marking me out.
The only problem I ever really had in my career was when that connection wasn't used when it should have been used - to sell my crime thriller, Kickback, which I was enormously proud of. I didn't think I needed to take a hand myself in stressing the provenance of it, so I left it to Dark Horse - who completely dropped the ball on it to such a degree that hardly anybody knew it was available. So despite my great reputation, it was a dead seller. I was extremely passionate about that book. It was the thing I most loved doing - probably secondarily to Vendetta. But I had the best time creating that book, and the publisher ruined its chances through sheer stupidity. It came out in the same year as the V movie, was released in the SAME MONTH as the DVD of V was released, and - handed a publicists dream - Dark Horse did nothing with it. After realizing this shortfall in their brain power, I tried to catch up and use my reputation to try and sell it after the launch period had passed, but it was really too late to gain that lost ground.
But, no, I'm really happy to be associated with V For Vendetta. I'm lucky. I wouldn't be able to do Aces if I hadn't been successful with V. Aces Weekly is something I can do because of that. It's all good.
CB: It's a tribute to the work you did, too. I was thinking of it as you were talking about it - the iconography of that. The Guy Fawkes mask has become so ubiquitous. It became a symbol of Occupy Wall Street, among other things, and it's really got to be gratifying to touch society in such a way.
Lloyd: Yup, well of course. Absolutely.
CB: Exciting. So I know you have quite a few people coming up on the book too. I'm looking at the list on your site and it's very impressive. Older creators, newer creators, people from the U.S., England, and other countries as well, it looks like - and you're committed to presenting a diverse collection of content, obviously.
Lloyd: Yeah, there's absolutely no reason why you can't use everybody from everywhere. I mean we can sell to everybody everywhere without shipping costs, and so there's no reason why not. As long as we can get good English translations, or work with artists who can get good English translations, that's fine. I'm very happy to have a global cast. It's what makes us what we are. There's nothing really parochial about us, it has that incredible mix, and the only credentials anyone has to have when they work at Aces Weekly is that they're an 'ace'. And, luckily, there's a wide world of those around.
CB: I think that's a great line to conclude with. Thank you.
For more information on Aces Weekly, visit acesweekly.co.uk