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Author Topic: Webcomics Community Spotlight: Chris Crosby  (Read 6426 times)
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« on: April 13, 2010, 03:19:49 AM »
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Today's interview was created through a team effort by amanda who wrote the questions and myself who served as editor and conduit to the interviewee. You can see more of amanda's work at her webcomics "Salt the Holly" and "But Not Really." I'd like to thank Chris for the considerable amount of time and effort he put into this very long and in depth interview.

Let's start with the basics. Tell us a little bit about yourself and the projects you are currently working on.

I'm probably most notable within the webcomics community for co-founding Keenspot and Comic Genesis (then called Keenspace) in 2000.  I also created or co-created a number of webcomics including SUPEROSITY, SORE THUMBS, LAST BLOOD, WICKEPOWERED, CROW SCARE, and GOD MODE.  (Links to all can be found at http://www.chriscrosby.com.)

Going back many moons, I started out in the business by doing print comic books in the mid-1990s around the time the direct market collapsed. Despite that, I was moderately successful publishing cheesy "bad girl" comics like SCORN and pop culture parodies like SLOTH PARK, XXXENA: WARRIOR PORNSTAR, WHEN BEANIES ATTACK, THE EBONIX-FILES, and many other titles I hope to see Linkara one day rip apart on ATOP THE 4TH WALL after he's gone through Gary Brodsky's output.

Sore Thumbs and Superosity celebrated excellent milestones this month (6 years and 11 years respectively). Congratulations! How are you celebrating?

Thank you. I celebrated by posting to Twitter about the anniversaries. (I don't tweet very much.)

In the summer of 2009, Sore Thumbs underwent an alternate reality reboot. What kind of feedback are you getting?

It's mixed. Some people love it, some people hate it. Most people are somewhere in the middle it seems.  Checking the stats, readership seems to be up about 12% since we did it, so that may be a good sign.  Readership had been a bit stagnant beforehand.

What led you to make your first webcomic?

I posted my first "webcomic" years before the term webcomics even existed, back around 1994 or so on the primordial internet known as the CompuServe service and later on my AOL member homepage. Why did I do it? Just for fun. It seemed so simple compared to the process of publishing a print comic book. Instead of dealing with distributors and printers and so on, all it took was uploading some graphics and an HTML page onto an FTP server. At the time, I remember telling another comic book publisher that making webcomics was so easy I wished we could bypass paper entirely and publish everything on the web.

In 1998 I was invited by a then-popular entertainment website called mania.com (which still exists after changing a few different ownership hands) to create a weekly comic for their site based on my comic book SNAP THE PUNK TURTLE, with the idea being that it might boost sales of the print comic. It didn't (the print comic stopped publication shortly thereafter), but it was well-received enough on its own as a webcomic that I was inspired to start my daily strip SUPEROSITY. Hearing about the early success of webcomics like USER FRIENDLY and SLUGGY FREELANCE were also major inspirations to me.

What is your artistic/writing background? Do you have any formal training or particular influences?

No formal training, as may be obvious to many! I've been drawing and writing comics since I was a little kid, that's about it. I always knew I wanted to be a cartoonist. Early influences included Jim Davis, Bil Keane, Berke Breathed, Bill Watterson, Matt Groening, John Kricfalusi... you know, the usual suspects. A little later on, I think TV shows like GET A LIFE and MR. SHOW WITH BOB & DAVID were big influences on my writing.

What is your writing process like? Are there any rituals or specific needs that must be met when you are trying to be creative?

Generally I just do everything at the last possible minute, which is a terribly horrible creative process.

You have creator and writer credits on piles of projects. What compels you to create a new project, and do you have different goals or target audiences on different projects?

Different for each.  

SUPEROSITY is basically a labor of love. It's me stubbornly refusing to stop drawing the characters I created when I was a 10-year old. In the beginning I had hoped it could also be incredibly popular and financially successful like my inspirations USER FRIENDLY and SLUGGY FREELANCE... but after eleven years I think that boat probably sailed. It's generating maybe $60 in a good month. But on the plus side, it has its few hardcore fans who write blogs and make Wikis devoted to it, which pleases me greatly. It doesn't take up a lot of my time to create. And at least it makes a profit! So it's got that going for it.

SORE THUMBS was me, four years into SUPEROSITY, going "can I create a really popular comic?" Because, you know, at some point you wanna try and entertain a big audience. So I teamed up with brilliant illustrator Owen Gieni, and we put our heads together, and SORE THUMBS is what popped out. And on the very first day, it had over 23,000 unique visitors, and we retained a surprisingly high number of them. To this day, SORE THUMBS has about twenty times the readership of SUPEROSITY, despite updating only three times per week as opposed to daily. And though the comic was initially a blatant semi-pandering grab for readers, we've infused so much of ourselves into this insane group of characters that it almost feels like a labor of love too. But one that we get paid for.

LAST BLOOD began as an attempt by my brother Bobby and I to come up with a movie idea that we could shoot ourselves on a very low budget using the abandoned school building in South Dakota that we own (long story). The movie didn't pan out (yet), but the comic book and webcomic have been very popular with vampire and zombie fans. (At the moment, the movie's in development at a big 20th Century Fox-based production company. From what I hear, they may be soon attaching a director that we're big fans of. That said, you never really know what's going on in Hollywoodland.)

WICKEDPOWERED, Owen Gieni and I were paid to create. It was a custom comic commissioned by advertiser Wicked Lasers, a company that sells very cool handheld lasers. It was a joy to work on, and we loved how it turned out. Owen says it's his favorite thing he's ever done. We'd like to do more WICKEDPOWERED comics at some point, whether we're being paid by a laser company or not.

CROW SCARE was the result of a movie idea about a giant mutant killer crow that my uncle Brew McCloud has had in his damaged brain for years. We worked together on a rough draft of a screenplay (at the time titled KAW, years before the Syfy Channel ruined that by producing a movie about killer ravens called CAW), and later produced the comic in the hopes that might make the movie an easier sell.

GOD MODE was partly a result of SORE THUMBS' success. I created a concept for what I hoped would be a popular gaming comic, but instead of writing it myself, I hired another writer/artist to produce the comic. The thought was that my weird writing style was a turn-off for a lot of readers, and by matching a marketable concept with a more mainstream-style writer I could create a comic even more popular than SORE THUMBS. It didn't pan out that way (at its peak GOD MODE ended up only being about half as big as SORE THUMBS), but it was an interesting experiment, and the comic still has a lot of fans.

In all of your projects do you have a favorite character?

I don't know. Boardy from SUPEROSITY, maybe.

Who do you think is the fan favorite?

Probably either Cecania or Jimmy from SORE THUMBS.

Were there any characters or projects that you thought would do well but failed to catch on or perhaps some that were sleeper hits?

I hoped SUPEROSITY and GOD MODE would be more popular.

What kind of promotional tools or processes are you using to spread the word about your projects?

Aside from Keenspot cross-promotion, Project Wonderful is amazing. No better way to promote a webcomic that I know of.

With the exception of Superosity, you seem to work primarily with Owen Gieni as your artist. How did you guys meet, and what prompted the decision to collaborate?

In 2002 I hired him to draw a comic book called LANDIS, and I was really impressed by his work. Later on, he mentioned that he was a fan of SUPEROSITY, and of course I thought "this guy's a genius!" He suggested we collaborate on something, so we came up with a comic book called THE GOODS. It along with LANDIS was part of a new color comic book line I was putting together called A-BOMB, which was true to its name and bombed big, so GOODS never saw publication. Later on, he suggested we do a comic strip for the web, and that combined with my desire to write a really popular webcomic led to SORE THUMBS. And we continue to work together to this day because we like working together.

Your mom Teri digitally colors your linework for Superosity...

She did color SUPEROSITY for the first few years, but she hasn't for the last eight or so.

...in addition to holding the Chief Financial Officer position with Keenspot.  You've also worked with your brother Bobby on projects like Last Blood. What is it like working so closely with members of your family?

Sometimes it's easy, and sometimes it's very difficult.

What prompted you to create Keenspot in the beginning?

In 1999 a company called Big Panda, which was basically the proto-Keenspot, was hosting SUPEROSITY, NUKEES (co-founder Darren Bleuel's comic), and most of what became the original Keenspot line-up.  Big Panda also hosted SLUGGY FREELANCE, which was the PENNY ARCADE or XKCD of its day, the big popular webcomic everyone aspired to be.  

SLUGGY creator Pete Abrams left Big Panda after he wisely concluded that splitting 50% of his ad revenue with his webhost wasn't a great business decision. This depressed Big Panda owner Bryan McNett greatly. Once SLUGGY left, McNett went from being full of enthusiasm about turning webcomics into a big business, to ready to throw in the towel on webcomics altogether.  

Ultimately, McNett offered ownership of Big Panda to me in exchange for a percentage of profits. I happily agreed and waited for the contract. I waited for months, no contract. Then I learned that McNett had met with GOATS creator Jon Rosenberg and offered him the same deal.  

And then my site went down for three days. In the first year of my comic, having my site disappear from the internet for three days, that was heart-wrenching. And McNett was unreachable by E-Mail, phone, etc during the whole time. That was the last straw. I couldn't risk it happening again and having no control over it at all. I turned to the other creators on the Big Panda E-Mail list, asking for suggestions about what could be done about all this. NUKEES creator Darren Bleuel replied back, saying he and his buddy Nate Stone were starting up a webhosting company, and maybe we could team up to start something that could replace Big Panda. And thus Keenspot was born.

At first we just wanted to be like Big Panda, but better. I think we succeeded. But that may not be saying much.

A lot of people are confused by the relationship of Keenspot, Keenspace, Comic Genesis, and Blatant Comics.  Can you describe the timeline of creation for each entity and explain the purpose for which they were created (along with any other comic related entities you have been involved in running)?

Summer 1997: Blatant Comics launches as a print comic book publishing company, primarily publishing parodies of popular culture. Blatant stops publishing in 1999, but is revived in 2006 not only to publish one more parody comic (DEAD SONJA: SHE-ZOMBIE WITH A SWORD), but more importantly for the purposes of publishing the works of my brother Bobby Crosby (LAST BLOOD, MARRY ME, +EV, etc). Why use Blatant instead of Keenspot?  Because we were unable to publish Bobby's comics under the Keenspot label due to the objections of co-owners Darren Bleuel and Nate Stone. But two years later in 2008, we buy Darren and Nate out and take over Keenspot, and we bring Bobby's webcomics into the Keenspot line-up. His comics continue to be published in print by Blatant Comics, because Bobby prefers it that way.

March 2000: Keenspot launches as a webcomics publishing company. Keenspot publishes a select group of creators hand-picked and invited by the owners.

June 2000: Keenspace (later Comic Genesis) launches as an all-inclusive webhosting and automation service for virtually any webcomic that wants to join. The working title for Keenspace was actually "Keenspot Jr.", but it was decided that the name could be considered condescending so I came up with Keenspace, the idea being that we offer "space" for your webcomic. (This was two years before MySpace's debut, it wasn't a play off of that.) In 2005, due to confusion between the names Keenspot and Keenspace, we changed Keenspace's name to Comic Genesis.

You've said that you do not consider Keenspot a "collective" but many folks might argue otherwise. Since Keenspot provided hosting, web design, advertising, and merchandise options for its creator members, it was not exclusively a publishing company either. It's been our experience that there is a rainbow of companies that provide various services to webcomics; they are all different but often overlap here and there. Can you tell us what you consider a "Webcomic Collective" to be, what kind of company you consider Keenspot to be at this point (or as of last December as it is clearly "in transition" right now), and maybe give some examples of other companies that might be somewhere in between?

I suppose it's all subjective, but in my book, a collective is controlled and owned by the entire group rather than by one or two people. If you've got ten people in a collective, they all own it equally and they all decide together on everything that they do as a group.  

Keenspot was never like that. We're a company, a business, owned and controlled first by four people and now by two people.  We've always strongly considered the suggestions of the hundred or so creators that've been in our publishing line-up over the years, but they've always been just that, suggestions. In a collective, their power would be more than just that.

From an outsider's point of view, the following to me look like collectives: Dumbrella, Blank Label, HalfPixel, and Dayfree Press. On the opposite end of the spectrum, something like Blind Ferret looks to be a publishing company (among other big exciting things) and not a collective. But as usual, I may be completely wrong.

I consider Keenspot to be what it's always been, for the most part, which is a publishing company. That said, those who say we were something of a collective have a point, because in 2008 when we took control of the company, we offered a new optional contract to every Keenspot member, basically giving them access to a "collective" version of Keenspot. They could run their own ads and collect 100% of the revenues, they could be hosted on a non-Keenspot server, they could basically do anything they wanted as long as they ran our headerbar and our Newsbox. They didn't control the company's operations, but they weren't part of a standard publishing company arrangement, either.  They were part of a glorified link exchange, which is what a lot of collectives are. Still, that option didn't exist for the previous eight years of the company's existence. And it made things confusing for a lot of people.

Keenspot was not the first webcomic publishing company but it was arguably the most successful and perhaps best known. With the announcement that Keenspot is now closed to new creators and will be trimming the majority of the webcomics from its membership by July of this year, much has been made of the death of the Keenspot type business model. Some have suggested this will be the end of the Keenspot name, and others have seen it as an opportunity to raid successful creators from Keenspot's hosted comics. What do you see as the future for Keenspot?

We'll soldier on happily with the line-up of comics that remain, which no longer number in the high double digits but still number higher than the collectives I've heard of.  

Keenspot's business model, which for the most part has always been simply "publish comics on the web and generate advertising revenue from said comics on the web," is a healthier, stronger business model than it has ever been in history. Its time has come, really. And just like an independent creator can make use of that business model successfully, so can and so does an independent company like Keenspot. But now it will be done primarily with comics we've created from the ground up, rather than outside independent comics that existed before Keenspot and can choose to leave Keenspot at any time. And I believe we'll be a more stable, focused company as a result.

Do you see any use for the type of company Keenspot is/was in today's webcomic market?

With the turn-key ad networks, web hosting and automation scripts that exist today for free to all, there's not a big need for a company that scoops up existing indie webcomics and handles most of the business stuff in exchange for a percentage of the profits. Because the business stuff isn't that hard for most people. Even in 1999, Pete Abrams decided that wasn't a good enough deal for him and fled Big Panda. But there's certainly the opportunity for new companies to pop up and give it the old college try, and I would not be at all surprised if they did. Good luck to 'em.

Will you continue to do business as Keenspot once the company is focused primarily on Crosby properties, use the Blatant Comics name or will some third name become the new standard bearer?

We'll continue doing business as Keenspot, because we're stubborn like that. Blatant Comics will also continue solely as a print publishing label for Bobby's comics.

You wrote in your communication to Keenspot members in December that July was to be the deadline for them to consider your new contract. You also expressed that you expect that the vast majority of them will seek hosting and publishing elsewhere. Many of the Keenspot comics that we read have not moved nor announced any plans to move at this time. Now that we are almost halfway to July, can you tell us how the transition is progressing?

About how I expected. Many have moved already, many plan to sign up with our $15/month hosting service and keep their sites on our servers (while no longer being Keenspot members), and a few have decided to sign the new contract.

What kind of involvement, if any, do you maintain with Keenspot's open invitation hosting site Comic Genesis?

As much as always, which is not a lot. Comic Genesis admin Kelly Price handles the day-to-day of CG.

How will this current transition affect Comic Genesis?

Not at all, as far as I can tell.
 
What is it like juggling so many creative projects and businesses like Keenspot and Comic Genesis at the same time?  

It's not easy.

How do you handle it?

As well as I can, which I frequently wish was much better.

Do you have a priority list?

Whatever demands my immediate attention at the moment is the priority. Maybe I should have a priority list.
 
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a webcomicker or webcomic industry businessman?

Myself. (And also my brother Bobby.)

You have been involved in webcomics almost since the beginning. Your impact and the significance of your involvement are undeniable if sometimes controversial. How do you think you are viewed by the webcomic community, and how would you like to be remembered?

If at all, I am probably viewed by the webcomics community as "that crazy idiot goofball asshole."  

The last part may be because I frequently get confused with my brother Bobby.

I would like to be remembered as "that crazy idiot goofball."

No, scratch that, I would like to be remembered as "that crazy idiot goofball who saved Christmas."
 
And in closing, what do you think the future holds for you?

Me saving Christmas. Obviously.
« Last Edit: April 13, 2010, 03:25:14 AM by Rob » Logged

Rob
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« Reply #1 on: April 13, 2010, 03:25:47 AM »
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Let's all give amanda a big hand for all her hard work on this interview.

Good job.  Wink
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« Reply #2 on: April 13, 2010, 03:29:05 AM »
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For more information on Chris and his comics you can read some of the interesting business tidbits he related here on the site back in January. Starting with this post.

http://forum.webcomicscommunity.com/index.php/topic,24.msg162.html#msg162

Also, I busted my behind formatting this article but at 3500 words it was the longest one I've ever edited. Please let me know if you find any dead links or glaring errors. A PM would be preferred. Thanks.
« Last Edit: April 13, 2010, 03:30:45 AM by Rob » Logged

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« Reply #3 on: April 20, 2010, 02:10:07 AM »
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Quote
Let's all give amanda a big hand for all her hard work on this interview.

Good job.

Hear, hear!

Great interview!

-S
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