Saturday, November 14, 2009

Act-I-Vate will conquer all! Dean Haspiel in Chicago, 11/13/09

On the night of Friday, November 13, 2009, the city of Chicago was graced with the presence of Dean Haspiel and Tim Hall, there to present a documentary about Act-I-Vate, the webcomics collective to which they both contribute, and also to do some readings of their stories and meet fans. It was an informative, enjoyable event; the documentary, called The Act-I-Vate Experience, is a short affair, less than half an hour, but it quickly and memorably details many of the creators involved with the site, and provides some tantalizing images and interesting commentary from the artists involved, making any viewer who was not previously familiar with the site want to rush online and read some of the works available. The site counts such talents as Haspiel, Michel Fiffe, Simon Fraser, Nick Bertozzi, Kevin Colden, Roger Langridge, Leland Purvis, Mike Cavallaro, Tim Hamilton, Joe Infurnari, Molly Crabapple, and Josh Neufeld among its contributors, and many of them were interviewed for the documentary, talking about the comics they're serializing online, the reasons for doing this, and their take on the philosophy of the site, and webcomics in general.

The excitement and passion for their work is palpable in every creator's case, and it's great to hear them hold forth on how excited they are to be taking part in the site. For many of the creators, it's a way to get their work out in the world, following their passion and making comics that publishers might not have been willing to take a chance on. For some, the current model of comics publishing requires them to seemingly disappear for up to a year to work on a graphic novel, so publishing more personal work in serialized increments gives them a way to stay in the public eye. Others use the platform as a chance to experiment with new ideas and more personal work. As the site has grown, it has shown many of the creators that the web is the future of serialization, the way that they can reach the biggest audience, with some, like Jeff Newelt, even going so far as to say that this might be the savior of print publishing.

Others, like Michel Fiffe, are excited to be a part of such an incredible gathering of talent. Seeing the excellent work that contributors post on the site really encourages him to bring his "A" game, but he's also thrilled by the way everyone involved is equal, with no bosses or editors deciding what is and isn't fit to publish.

Some of the artists share how they're using the online experience in new ways, whether it's in instant reader feedback through comments or, as in the case of Leland Purvis's Vulcan and Vishnu, designing comics that can work on a variety of platforms like cell phones, and even go beyond language barriers to reach international audiences.

One segment discusses The Act-I-Vate Primer, a print anthology recently published by IDW, which functions as a sort of introduction to the comics on the site. Haspiel describes it as the ultimate bridge between print and the web, hopefully encouraging readers to log onto the site and continue reading the series which are in the book. But it's all-new material, so even for longtime fans, it's not just a reprint of something they have already read.

Overall, it's a great watch, full of excitement about the possibilities of comics and enough glimpses of great art to make anyone interested in checking out the huge variety of work on the site, all available to read for free. The documentary should be available to watch online soon, so be sure to watch for it and give it a look.

After the film was over, Haspiel and another Act-I-Vate contributor did some readings of their stories, with the help of some volunteers from the audience. First was "Bring Me the Heart of Billy Dogma", Haspiel's contribution to the Primer, which was full of the usual bombastic emotion and graphic sex of his Billy Dogma series. He followed that up with "Sex Planet", another story which is available online (and whose title, as Haspiel gleefully related, was stolen from an R. Kelly song), and an entry from Street Code, his autobiographical series that he does for DC Comics' Zuda site. They all made for enjoyable little tales, although a dramatic reading of a comic is kind of a novelty; the best experience is almost always reading it on your own.

Haspiel was followed by Tim Hall, another contributor to the site, whose Uplift the Positivicals is more of a text column than comics, although one entry which he read, called "Frisbee with Andrey", is an example of his experiments with vizualizations of text, an attempt to push himself into new areas and be a part of the site's community. It was interesting, and it should be interesting to see what else Hall does as he plays with the interactions of words and pictures.

It was a good evening, and I would encourage anybody who has the chance to see Haspiel speak about webcomics do so; he's an affable, entertaining guy, and the passion he has for his work is obvious. Since he's busy making comics full-time, it looks like we'll be able to enjoy his art and writing for some time to come, and that's a great thing, only one of the wonders of this modern age of sequential art. May it last long.

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