Background: You may or may not have noticed something trending on Twitter the other day called Monkeybrain comics. What is this? Well, it is a new publisher founded by writer Mike Roberson and his wife Allison Baker. You might remember Roberson as the writer who picked up the pieces after J. Michael Straczynski’s run on Superman fell apart or as the writer of a some Fables spin offs or the Vertigo title I Zombie (which I’ve mostly enjoyed). A month or so ago, Roberson had a public falling out with DC over the issue of creator rights. He basically said he could no longer work for a company that had so little respect for creator rights (now and in the past) and DC responded by taking him off all their comics. I Zombie had already been announced as ending, but I suspect it was probably related to this disagreement.
My assumption at the time was that Roberson would go back to writing novels or we’d see his name attached to something like a new Fathom miniseries. But it turns out that Roberson had something much more ambitious in mind: MonkeyBrain Comics. MonkeyBrain is a new publisher of digital-first, creator-owned comics that are available through Comixology (on any smart phone, tablet or PC).
Twitter went atwitter and Comixology and MonkeyBrain decided to make their launch titles available on Monday, July 2 (a few days earlier than expected). And….why not? They’re digital-first. There’s no reason to be beholden to the “new books on Wednesday” comic shop model. With FIVE titles launching and prices at either $0.99 or $1.99, it was worth checking out.
So, how were the comics?
Bandette #1 - Written by Paul Tobin with art by Colleen Coover, this was a charming first issue. At 99 cents for a 13-page reading experience, it was just enough to introduce the central character: Bandette. She’s a young French (Belgian?) woman who is a cat-burglar with a heart. We meet her as she’s robbing some nasty, arms-dealer dude’s home and also learn that she is a bit of a problem solver for the local police. The whole thing is light-hearted and sweet. Coover’s art is delectable. It looks a lot like her traditional watercolors, but I’d bet she did this digitally. Everything is sweet, soft and happy in her art. I’m definitely looking forward to MORE of this title.
Amelia Cole and the Unknown World #1 - Written by Adam P. Knave & DJ Kirkbride with art by Nick Brokenshire, Amelia Cole is a story about magic. We meet Amelia; she’s a young woman with magical powers who bounces back and forth between the “magic world” and the “normal world.” Trouble ensues. Amelia is the star and you feel like you know her character pretty well at the end of the first issue’s 28 pages (this title was $1.99). The art isn’t anything I want to be buried with, but it is perfectly fine and communicates the story well. This is a quality title. Probably not something I’ll stick with because I’m not such a fan of magic, but there are a lot of people who feel differently.
Edison Rex #1 - Checking in at 13 pages for 99 cents is this entry written by Roberson with art by Dennis Culver. This introductory issue shows us Edison Rex, who was once the world’s greatest scientist but has become the world’s greatest villain. We see him outwitting a Superman-like character in this issue and you can’t help but think that THIS is something Roberson would have enjoyed doing with Lex Luthor and Superman if he’d continued with DC. It’s a fresh spin on superheroing with good art and it’s 99 cents!
There are two other titles that I haven’t checked out yet, but will: Aesop’s Ark #1 by J. Torres and Jennifer Meyer claims to be stories that the animals told to each other on Noah’s Ark to pass the time. The art looks divine. The October Girl #1 by Matthew Dow Smith and the teaser says it’s a fantasy story about a young girl working at a coffee shop who learns that the world is not what she thought it was. Both are 99 cents for 13 pages.
A couple of things struck me about these launch titles:
1. Lots of female characters – This is so smart. Comic shops are dominated by superheroes which are written for the stereotypical 35-year old white dude wearing a Green Lantern t-shirt. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the ladies appear to not really enjoy these sorts of comics (since they don’t buy many of them). But, women read a lot more than men do in every age group. Why not try to make some comics that appeal to them?
2. A few younger characters - Along the lines of point #1, I could see these issues appealing to teenagers, probably not teenage boys, but teenage girls. Not in the sense that they’re stupid, angst-filled, vampire romances, but more in the sense that they feature young women doing strong things.
3. Very clean - There is no graphic sex and no horrid violence in the issues I read. I think Bandette might have referred to someone’s backside as an “ass”, but that was objectionable as the content became. Most parents would have no issues letting kids of any age read these comics. Kids actually DO like comics and it appears MonkeyBrain wants it’s comics to be kid-friendly. I personally prefer my comics a little more visceral, but I think these comics were written more with my family in mind than something to take the place of Scalped on my pull list.
4. Quality art. - Now, other then Colleen Coover’s work, I didn’t see any art that floored me. But, I don’t really expect that either. However, I’ve read TONS of “indie” comics and the art is usually pretty crappy. In fact, it’s crappy enough that I often can’t enjoy the comics. Everything in this launch was quite good from an artistic standpoint.
5. Pricing! - People have been demanding 99 cent comics since digital comics rolled around. Well, here they are. The pricing model for digital comics is all kinds of screwed up. I notice this as I drop Marvel titles with the intent of going digital. I don’t notice that $3.99 price when the comic shop employee hands me a stack of comics that costs $40, but I DO notice that price when my finger is hovering over the “Buy” button on my iPad. Suddenly I think, “Do I really want to read X-Men #31? $3.99 seems like a lot. I can probably skip this.” But, 99 cents or $1.99 is much easier to swallow. Heck, you can buy all 5 launch titles for under $6.
6. Digital-first - Notice how the comics are all different lengths? Well, that’s because those are the lengths that made sense for the creators to tell “their” story. That’s very different than having 20 pages and wondering how to condense or expand a story to fit a predetermined number of pages. Plus, by being digital-first, they can do 99 cents and not risk the righteous outrage of comic shop owners and their threats of boycotts.
Conclusion: Lots of good titles to check out here. My favorite was Bandette, but there is probably something for everyone.