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Semantikon Interview with Chad and Paco Allen, creators of the web based comic NYC2132 now syndicated on our site, or from nyc2123.com
semantikon: NYC2123 draws from a powerful tradition of post-apocalyptic writings from the likes of William Gibson, JG Ballard, George Orwell, Robert Heinlein, Kurt Vonnegut, William Burroughs just to name a few. First, what other comics/artists/musicians/writers would you say have been inspirational to NYC2123 in terms of both the storyline and the artwork? Second… why New York City? 

Paco: Frank Miller is the comparison that people most often make when it comes to the illustrations, and I’m a huge, huge fan of his, but I don’t really think the similarities run very deep. I think a lot of people see a black and white comic and they think “Frank Miller.” While Miller’s work clearly sets the benchmark, there are tons of artists out there working in black and white. The style of NYC2123 does owe a debt to Miller, but it’s much more photo-realistic than his amazingly evocative art. In many ways Linklater’s Waking Life was a big inspiration because it made me think about the possibilities of combining live actors with original illustrations.

In terms of writing, clearly William Gibson is a huge influence, as he is for anyone writing in this genre. I would put Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash up there at the top as well. Perhaps not so obviously, I consider Bradbury, Clarke, and Asimov as important sources for NYC2123, primarily because they had quirky and often quite plausible visions of the near future. Film has also had a big influence on the writing, most notably works like BladeRunner and the Mad Max series. As for the decision to use New York as the setting: Probably the biggest reason is that I live there, and so it was easier for me to develop an authentic sense of place than if it were set, for example, in LA, which I don’t know very well. Also the fact

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semantikon: NYC2123 departs from traditional comic publishing in entirely new ways; viewers can read the strip on your site nyc2123.com, the work is creative commons licensed so users can mash up and re-use the files in any way they like as long as they attribute the work, and, site users can download edition files from your site and enjoy the comic on the go with their Sony PSP Players. What fueled the decision to make this comic available for free, for download, for sharing, only asking that the site and nyc2123 name is attributed?

Chad: Well, for starters, our primary goal was just to have people read it. And if you’re a total unknown, then no one is going to pay to read your stuff online. So giving it away for free was a no-brainer. In the beginning, the Creative Commons license was mostly curiosity: we wanted to see what people would do with the work if it were available in the public domain. Since ultimately we retain commercial rights, we don’t really have anything to lose by releasing the source material under a Creative Commons license.

Paco: And as it turns out, we actually had a lot to gain by using the CC license. It’s meant that people have created translations and mash-ups, which in turn has led to wider readership for the work.

semantikon: In addition to the previous question, you have usurped traditional methods of comic distribution networks altogether---what feedback have you received from other comic creators about how you have innovated in the web medium to deliver NYC2123 with complete control?

Chad: To be honest, I don’t think of what we’ve done in terms of distribution as all that innovative. I think the content is good, but just check out onlinecomics.net and you’ll see that almost everyone with a scanner or a digital tablet is publishing a comic book online for free. As for feedback: we haven’t really talked to a lot of other comic book creators. I’m not really sure we’re on the radar screen for people working in print, and there is no solid community of online comic book artists as far as I can tell – if there is, we have been invited to join the club.

NYC2123 Still One

NYC2123 Still 2

NYC2123 Still 3

Paco: We receive tons of feedback from readers, and we’re in touch with some other folks who are currently working on comics for the PSP, but as Chad said, for whatever reason we haven’t had a lot of contact with other comic book writers.

Given the opportunity, what would be your first choice to translate NYC2123 to another medium such as television or film and why?

Chad: Film, because we’re movie freaks.
Paco: A book would be cool too. I think there’s also some material in there for a great video game.

semantikon: So far, you have delivered NYC2123 for free to visitors through the site with incredible resourcefulness. What has been your experience in producing NYC2123 in terms of costs, time spent, pr campaigns, advertising and distribution? With each of you in different parts of the country, both with full time jobs, how do you make it happen?

Paco: In terms of hard costs, it’s basically just web hosting. We haven’t spent no money on PR or advertising – all of our traffic has been word-of-mouth spread primarily by blogs and sites like this one. The main cost is just the massive number of hours we put into each issue.
Chad: It’s way more work than I thought it would be. We spend all of our spare time working on it.

semantikon: You make NYC2123 available for download actively encouraging those who can translate, to make each edition available in their mother tongue. It is a well accepted fact that many of the limitations of online publishing are related to language barriers, how have you seen NYC2123 audience proliferate as a result of encouraging translations you would not be able to do yourself?

Chad: That’s a really hard question to answer. The translations with larger audiences (like German) are hosted on other people’s websites, so we don’t have any hard data on how much traffic those versions get.
Paco: We’re collaborating with some folks on a Japanese translation right now, and given the PSP user base in Japan, we’re thinking that we’ll probably see a pretty big jump in overall readership from that market alone.

semantikon: For the artwork of NYC2123 you draw both from your imagination, and literally, from photos of human figures which you then trace over, discarding visual information not needed for the scene. At first, this seems an arduous process, but somehow, you’ve got a flow established. Would you discuss briefly for our audience, how each edition comes about. The storyline, photoshoot planning, the models, the illustration process and delivery to the site?

Paco: Well, it’s definitely still an arduous process. We’ve made improvements to the process as we go along, and the artwork has become more consistent as I’ve developed a clearer sense of how to combine photos and illustrations. There are some pretty good samples of how I create the art on our blog, including a Quicktime movie of me illustrating one of the frames. For starters, the process is 100% digital from beginning to end. Basically what happens is this: Chad writes the manuscript in a format that looks more or less like a screenplay, which is a common way for comic writers to work. We review the manuscript and refine dialogue and minor plot issues together. The next step is for me to draw storyboards for the issue; basically rough digital sketches of each frame. These get sent back and forth between me and Chad until we’re both comfortable with the layout. Then I go around and take digital photos of all of the actors, both the main characters and any “extras” we need for that issue. Sometimes I’m able to do this with all of the actors for each scene in one room, but often I’m shooting them separately. At that point the real work begins: Illustrating over the character photos, adding costumes, buildings, cars, guns and everything else you see that isn’t a person. This is done primarily in Flash, along with Illustrator and Photoshop. Again we both look at the issue as things move along to exchange ideas and make sure things are shaping up to meet our expectations. Eventually things get to a close-to-final version, and the last step is to go back and check continuity and do a final copy-edit. Once the issue is complete, we just upload the various versions (PSP download, PSP website and plain vanilla web) and send out an e-mail to the fans who have joined our mailing list.

Questions Submitted by NYC2123 fans for semantikon.com interview:

Are any of the characters based on people in your real lives, or yourselves? Who and to what degree?

Chad: Writer’s always say that their characters are composites of real people they know and I think to some extent that’s always true. You have to know what people are like in order to write about them. But I think it’s less true in genres like this one, where the characters are more archetypal and dramatic. For example, I don’t really know anyone like Julius. I guess I do know some people like Jake.

Paco: In a visual sense, however, all of the characters are based on real people in a very literal sense, since there are actors who serve as the starting point for the digital illustrations.

What was the first inspiration for NYC2123?

Chad: I had already written a short story that basically became issues 1 and 3 of Dayender. I wasn’t really doing anything with it, it was just a story I had written for a writing workshop that I was in with some of my friends. When Paco started talking about doing a graphic novel his general ideas about themes and setting matched up with that short story, so we decided to take it as a starting point.

Could you discuss what scenarios you present which you believe as a
possible future?

Chad: I don’t think there are any groundbreaking predictions in NYC2123. If there’s an idea we’ve tried to emphasize that we see as an actual trend, it’s the growing tension between the individual and the corporate-run state. On the one hand, the world will become more interesting and diverse as bio-technology advances and people are able to literally change their physical selves through genetic manipulation and cybernetic implants. On the other hand, we see a huge shift towards cultural homogenization – we take this to the extreme in NYC2123 by suggesting that in the future Wal*Mart, Starbucks and Microsoft will own everything on the planet, and governments will be reduced to mouth-pieces for corporate interests (if they haven’t been already).

Do either of you smoke? Marlboros?

Paco: We don’t smoke. It’s very bad for you.
Chad: I’ll start smoking when cigarettes have hash in them.

What are your favorite comics?

Paco: I started out as Marvel reader growing up and was a huge Spiderman fan, and in high school I was a big Todd McFarlane fan. I found Frank Miller through the Dark Knight series. In the last few years I’ve read a lot of Mike Mignola's stuff. The coolest thing I’ve read lately is Batman: Black and White.

Chad: I read comics that are nothing like NYC2123. Daniel Clowes is awesome. I also really like Paul Hornschemeier. If you can find a copy of “I know god smiles on these good times” you should buy it.

Could you tell us about your inking style? Why so sparse?

Paco: Just to clarify, there’s no “inking” in the traditional sense. The whole thing is produced digitally. As for the sparseness, I was looking to do something with a chiaroscuro look, which emphasizes dramatic highlights and shadows, and fewer mid-tones. This is a technique borrowed from painting that I’ve always liked, and I thought it would work well with the subject matter.

What’s your favorite Heinlein novel?

Chad: This is going to sound horrible. We haven’t read any of them.

Have you ever considered writing sci-fi novels?

Chad: I’ve written a few sci-fi short stories. The one that Dayender is based on got turned down for publication in a couple of big short story magazines that shall remain nameless. A novel is a lot of work. I’m trying to work up the energy to do it. No guarantees that it will be sci-fi.

Do either of you have any background in the sciences or medicine? how do you seem to have such a good handle on all the terminology?

Paco: I have a degree in fine arts and Chad has a degree in philosophy.
Chad: www.wikipedia.com