A Comic Book Revolution?
eComicz was not always a blockchain idea. Way back in 2014, there was a meeting attended by two comic book industry gurus and a not so knowledgeable guy. The oddball out was me, an artist at heart, but far from a comic book “knower of anything”. I was a jack of all trades and a master of none. Not to say I didn’t know any masters!
The topic of this meeting? A plan to start a revolution in the comic book industry. I was not aware that the comic book industry even needed a revolution, given the current successful comic book movies that year, like Guardians of the Galaxy (a personal family favorite), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (was awesome), and Big Hero 6 (still watch this one with the kids sometimes).
Still, I thought, Revolution and comic books, are there any other three words that sound so great together?
The Comic Book Industry Problem
The revolution was to solve a problem I was just about to realize existed. My colleagues wanted to create a hack around the fear that cripples the comic book industry.
“WTF,” you ask?
Because that is exactly what I asked at this meeting! What fear? To my surprise, the gurus had an answer that has been verified over and over again for five and a half years by a vast number of comic book industry insiders.
They all state it is impossible to get any traction as an independent creator in the industry if you are not picked up by a big name, and you have better odds of winning the lottery.
This is because big-name comic book publishers are limited by a certain fear, that if they listen to new ideas, it will limit what they can do, or are currently working on. This fear has resulted in the lack of distribution of great independent comic book stories with incredible depictions. It is a tragedy that so many great stories go unread.
eX-Comics as the Solution
Now that I understood the root of the problem, what was the hack to get around this industry-crippling fear? Being that I was not very familiar with the comic book industry at all, I started asking a lot of questions and deciphering through my past experiences. At the end of the meeting, the gurus and I had agreed that we needed to create an online platform that allowed anyone to self-publish their comic and retain all rights while giving them the ability to network with their peers.
This website had to be stellar. It needed to have a great flipbook reader that improved the current digital comic book reading experience. Creators needed to be able to self-publish their works without prejudice. The fans would be free to read the stories that they resonated best with. Writers would be able to connect with artists that matched their style.
Creators would be able to grow their fan base through social means while the platform would be doing marketing as well, to bring reader traffic. This simple idea was the beginning of a revolutionary idea that would not be realized for five and a half years.
The result of that first meeting was a company called eX-comics. The marketing slogan was: Extra! Extra! Read All About It! A place for everyone’s comics.
That first year, Matt (M. Scott Russell, in the picture above) dragged me to my first Comic Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah called Salt Lake Comicon. Matt has spent his entire life trying to figure out how to make his passion his career and positively impact the comic book industry. He has launched many different comic book company ideas with friends to make his dream a reality.
For those of you that don’t know, Matt is my comic book nerd/geek friend, author, and graphic designer. It seems like he knows everything there is to know about comics, and he has a great eye for design. This man eats, sleeps, and breathes the comic book industry. He has been like this the majority of his life, and his collection is a true testament to that fact.
I was not prepared nor did I know what to expect, since I had done zero research regarding comic conventions. I must admit, I was definitely surprised! I mean this in the most respectful way, but do you know the old 80's song: “The freaks come out at night”?
Wisdom from My 1st Comic Convention
During this extensive conversation, we spoke with Mike about our idea. He said something that seemed impossible, yet crucial to the success of the comic book industry revolution. He told us that our idea was good, but if we really wanted to revolutionize the industry, we needed to come up with a way for creators to make a living selling their comic books so they only had to focus on creating comics. Easier said than done, but challenge accepted.
Matt and Mike talked for a good while longer about how hard it is in the industry for the independents or anyone not signed by a big publishing company to get any kind of traction with their comic books. It was very apparent that these two creators were lamenting over the problems facing the industry they loved. I wasn’t completely keeping up with their conversation so I started reflecting. The priceless bit of information we had just been given from an icon in the industry, could further the revolution! Viva La Revolucion!
Following the event, Matt and I discussed how we could create and share channels of revenue with creators. I also counseled with a select few of my closest contacts regarding this new evolution of the revolution. Specifically Joe and Kevin from ApogeeInvent. They are two people I consider close personal friends.
Kevin donated several hours to help me architect the platform requirements for a permissions-based system. He is very precise and thorough concerning technology builds. Joe also donated many hours with me thinking through the complex problems we would face concerning a subscription-based business model platform online. Two Jedi masters letting me fumble my way through a maze. Their sage advice helped Matt and I traverse many obscure obstacles.
We figured out a few ways to create revenue, but none of them were really as revolutionary as they needed to be to set us apart and make it possible for creators to make a living. The reason this specific element is so important is because of the following:
A comic book creator not signed with one of the big comic book publishing houses has a very hard time making any real money. The creative talent, artistry, and technical knowledge required to successfully publish a comic book is time-consuming and expensive. It is nearly impossible for emerging comic book creators to find the time to create while supporting themselves and or a family with a day job.
Don't get me wrong, there are those that are currently grinding it out and we thank them for their resolve and sacrifices! Any person who has the heart to fight through the real struggles associated with comic book creation and distribution is a gladiator, or better yet, a superhero like David Lillie.
The Pitfalls Facing Comic Book Creators
As Matt and I worked together through the years, I had the privilege to observe firsthand the complexities that plague a creator. He was commissioned to create a possible Star Trek series called “Star Trek Front Lines” before CBS finally decided to go with Discovery. I was his soundboard for ideas concerning the plot, which was super fun and interesting. He had to put in a lot of research to keep his details fan approved. It was very time-consuming.
He also worked on 2 titles, but when the artist is pro bono, nothing gets done fast. Title, issue, arc, storyline, storyboard, sketch artist, inker; it takes an administrator to delegate out all the responsibilities! Then, after skillfully coordinating the production of the comic comes the most intimidating, and Matt would say, “difficult part”: Selling the comic so you can afford to make another one.
What options do independent creators have to publish and distribute their comics?
Traditional print has been the dominant way for ages, which is not really an option for the independent creator or publisher. The big print houses require a 3000 run minimum which is a very huge investment upfront for anyone, along with the task of establishing a distribution network to get your comic in front of any audience. If you are not coming from a big name, you more than likely will not get the exposure needed for comic book stores to take a chance on that indie comic of yours.
The second option and more often the one chosen by the independent comic book creator is putting your comic online. This poses several problems due to the amount of time and money needed to put your comic online and get people to it. Creators not only need to take the time to build a website, they need to find ways to optimize it for search (SEO).
Too Much Hinders Creativity
SEO (search engine optimization) is needed for the following reason; imagine your website is the needle and the universe is the haystack. Without SEO and marketing, that is about how hard it is to stumble upon a specific website. There were 1.8 Billion websites (And trillions of web pages) on the Internet in 2018, and that number is continually growing. Now you can start to understand why it is a miracle we have any independent comic books at all.
All this time, energy and money spent with the very real reality of not making any profit.
The majority of independent comic book creators put up one page at a time due to their limited knowledge from lack of time to devote solely to web development. This is why you don’t see any good flipbook readers. Most creators can’t afford to invest in one, so they post one page at a time. This makes two page spreads highly unlikely, or appealing, and the creator has to hope people stay interested enough with one page to come back around for the next page of the story.
They have to progress the plot enough in one page; how many times has this affected the way they wanted to tell the story? They can’t sell their comics like in the old days, so they sell their brand merchandise. Just like in Spaceballs, when Yogurt said, “it's all about merchandising, merchandising, merchandising”. If they are not paying the bills with merchandise, then they probably hold a full-time job on top of everything else explained above.
The Pinch - Time to admit defeat?
Through the next several years, Matt and I tried so many different things to get a comic book community-created online that would help creators and was driven by fans. We acquired ecomicz.com, I borrowed seed money from my friend and boss to acquire a good flipbook reader. Matt tried to build the website himself using several different Content Management Systems such as WordPress, Joomla, Yii, Drupal, Sharepoint along with other open-source platforms requiring lots of widgets.
No matter what he did the site remained slow and all those features created bugs with other features that just left us crying. It is not that Matt is not a good programmer, he currently teaches programming at a high school in Idaho Falls. It is that this project had evolved from one year to the next and had grown super complex due to the social features, flip reader, publishing, and many other features needed to create a great comic book networking community experience. We devoted thousands of hours to this project, but to no avail. The more we put the pedal to the metal, the more it felt like we were just spinning our wheels in the mud. The industry has so many unfulfilled promises, Matt and I did not want to become another in that sea of despair.
Matt and I finally admitted we were unable to build anything close to what we had envisioned for the industry on our own. Things were bleak, but not lost, it turns out.
Hi-Ho Silver, Away!
Through the 5+ years Matt and I grinded out nothing, a company I had worked for called ApogeeInvent was hanging out with me on the sidelines. I had worked for ApogeeInvent as the Senior Vice President Of Business Development.
They are the best web design and development firm on the planet, in my humble opinion. Their proprietary code base is incredible and truly a work of art in the programming sense. Complex and concise, this core is what powers Apogee solutions and innovations online. With intuitive and experienced oversight, ApogeeInvent is a colossal titan in online design and engineering. They are inventing the future, keep your eye on the horizon!
I am terrible at keeping secrets so both the CEO Joseph Frazier and the COO Kevin Cunningham knew about the exploits of our comic book revolution idea from the beginning. I have been friends with Kevin for 20 years and Joe half that time. They talked me through some crazy times, let me tell ya. And some of those times had nothing to do with the comic book industry.
I always have appreciated their logical and honest review of my general circumstances. Some of their feedback was a little brutal, but they always started off and ended with positive support. You know, that shit sandwich you give people so they don’t feel bad about themselves or what they’re doing. Both helped in any way they could, and Joe always related a story of how comic books helped him learn how to read because he struggled with dyslexia as a kid.
At one point, under the assumed identity of eComicz, we had an investor that was willing to pay for development work by ApogeeInvent. It seemed super awesome, but it turned out the guy was a cokehead and had stolen money from his girlfriend to live. I found out from the girlfriend while he was in jail. Needless to say, this particular situation left us beaten and broken, with no real hope on how to afford the revolution, or save face.
A Break from Reality
While I built my house over a 16 month period from 2017 to 2018, Joe and I had a few conversations about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Around the time when all the cryptocurrency stuff was a big enough buzz that mainstream media was chattering about it, I remember lamenting on the fact that I could not figure out how to get eComicz started. I mentioned to Joe it would be cool if we could make a cryptocurrency to fund eComicz, so I could hire Apogee to build the eComicz platform. I had a hunch that the Apogee team was probably the only development team in the known universe that could possibly pull this revolution off. I also knew we could not afford them without some miracle money-making idea.
Joe was silent for a bit, so I was not sure he heard me. Then he was like “Yeah, that is a good idea.” Kinda like he wasn’t listening, but he was. He quickly interjected that he had been pondering an idea for a while, but he still needed to speak to some other people about it before discussing it with me. The call ended shortly after that.
Now I don't mean to brag, but Joe is like one of the smartest people I know, so when he said he had an idea, I was clueless but hopeful it might have something to do with eComicz, from the way the conversation ended.
Little did I know, Joe had been spending a lot of time seriously trying to figure out a project for Apogee concerning blockchain development. On Halloween in 2017, Joe called and told me he had decided that he wanted to make eComicz a reality. My heart skipped a beat! He told me that he still had to work out a lot of details, but he had conceived a truly revolutionary idea of how to merge crypto with comics. Huh? It was a very short call but left me full of wonder.
I remember calling Matt right after and telling him about my conversation with Joe. We both were excited that Joe sounded like he was taking a serious look at building the eComicz platform. We assumed it was through a cool comic cryptocurrency. It was the first time after admitting we were incapable, that the impossible seemed like it just might be reachable. Thanks to the caped crusader ApogeeInvent!
A few days later Joe called me back and told me about his new idea. Now I like to think I am kinda smart and in the know, but I will admit when he told me what he had really been thinking I was a little like a doe in headlights. I had not the foggiest idea what he was saying at most points in the conversation, concerning the technical aspects.
It definitely sounded like he wanted to partner with us, but with a new twist to our already expensive over-evolved idea. I was used to people hearing about the eComicz idea and coming up with an additional ton of ideas related to it so I was skeptical at first. Although the twist turned out to be the most significant and brilliant idea ever, it was hard for me to perceive it at the time.
Joe wanted to build a marketplace where comic book creators could sell their comics, just like in the old days! At this point I was like, “Wait, I thought you were the smartest person I knew.” I proceeded to tell Joe why we couldn’t do that, and it would be nice and all, but no one can do that because buying a copy of a PDF is only buying permission to view that PDF. You can sell it after you read it, and you can't give it away. Well, you shouldn't, morally speaking. Basically, I told Joe, an elite programming ninja, his idea was bad and why.
After he stopped shaking his head he got me to slow down and listen. He proceeded to tell me that he had spoken with his ninja team of developers and they all supported and contributed to the idea to turn a digital copy of a comic book into a verifiably unique digital asset.
A verifiably unique digital asset? What the hell is that? And how can I get me one?
My interest was peaked. It all sounded extremely fascinating and complicated, with the potential for greatness! Considering that beggars can’t be choosers I probably would have agreed to anything to keep the revolution alive, but this was beyond happy endings. After a very long conversation of Joe explaining and re-explaining things to me, he informed me that he needed to talk to the board of directors of ApogeeInvent and if they approved it, he wanted to partner with Matt and I to create a new kind of eComicz company.
This was better than we could have hoped for! I thanked Joe feverishly for believing in Matt and I and going to bat for eComicz. Back-boned by ApogeeInvent’s radical codebase, eComicz would truly be revolutionary for the industry. As soon as I was off the phone with Joe, I was on the phone with Matt and told him the exciting news.
He picked up on the verifiably unique digital asset marketplace idea and loved the concept and everything about it. I believe his exact words were “holy f-ing shit! this is a great idea. This will work and is way better than what we had previously. Is this for real?” After convincing him it was a real possibility, we both had a renewed sense of hope that our revolution would live to fight another day!
When Time Stands Still
The wait for Joe to call me was excruciating. I remember doubting if he would call. Matt was asking me every other day if I had heard from Joe. I have to admit it was a little irritating. I might have even let him know that at one point or another, I was being a total dick though.
I tried to play it off like I was not dying of anticipation, but let's be honest, the wait was killing me as well. After what seemed like forever, Joe finally called. He told me that his board had approved the partnership and that he wanted to name the marketplace Crypto Comics. I asked if the url was available and he said he had not looked yet.
It was available, at a premium price. He asked if I thought we should get it and I said, “hell no! That is way too much money!” I did not realize the significance of the name at that time, but Joe did and we got that url before the call ended. It was glorious. Viva La Revolucion!
From that moment on CryptoComics Marketplace was a reality, and you may think the rest is history, but we are just getting started!
Growing the A-Team
Prior to finalizing the paperwork of eComicz as a subsidiary of ApogeeInvent and Cryptocomics.com marketplace as a product of eComicz. We decided it would be best to test the waters for market acceptance and saturation probability. Development had already been started, mind you, which is probably why this was such a good idea. Probably should have been done sooner.
Matt, Joe and a newcomer to the game Andrew Frey all felt it would be good to test our idea at FanX18 in Salt Lake City Utah, and who is crazy enough to turn down a comic convention? Not this guy!
This time I knew what to expect, and I was all in! Sporting our awesome new Cryptocomics.com t-shirts, a super awesome landing page sign-up form, and some quickly printed business cards, we strutted into FanX18 like we owned the place. Our materials had been whipped together by Frey this time, and he quickly produced. The four of us hit every booth and panel we could. The reception was better than we anticipated. People were asking questions, and at first very skeptical, but as we were able to explain things and the light bulbs came on, they were ecstatic.
The fact that we would allow anyone to publish without editing, and the idea to turn a comic book into a digital asset resonated with people on a nostalgic level. Jaws hit the floor when they heard we were giving 80% to the initial seller and a 5% residual resale royalty to the original creator every time the comic book resold. Eyes lit up as they began to grasp the possibilities. They hit us with some hard questions, and our answers left them, believers.
Since FanX18 we have worked very hard, while talented indie creators have signed up in our system pre-beta. David Lillie, Anthony Wolf, Jonathan Hallett and Valerie Finnigan, not to drop any names or anything. We even have a creator-owned, content-focused, publisher, Antarctic Press, planning to publish comics to the marketplace.
Of course, it should be obvious at this point that we had the inside edge when it comes to the creation of CryptoComics Marketplace.
As a lifelong industry professional, Matt gives us great insight and connection with the creator and fan base of the comic book industry. Now add Andrew Frey’s collector spirit, experience, talent, and dedication to the comic book industry and it is clear why we are the cutting edge.
Frey is the creative director for ApogeeInvent. He also designed the logo for my company Fry Right which is 1 of my 3 most favorite logos in the world. The other is cryptocomics.com, which was co-designed by Frey and Matt. Matt created my third favorite logo, which was the first logo for Fry Right. Gets a little complicated I know, like hill billy history.
The dynamic duo is the perfect description for the results these two produce together. Both of these individuals are talented creators and lifelong comic book enthusiasts. Together, they have micro-managed the initial groundwork for the look, feel, and user experience of CryptoComics Marketplace to near perfection, in my humble opinion.
Because of their passion and in-depth knowledge of the industry, our flipbook reader, bookshelf, hero profile, and other platform features, are hyper-focused on the end users’ experience. We have even shown off our platform and features to some very big names in the industry and they are very pleased with what they have been able to see so far.
Every time these two design a user interface, they check with each other and their industry connections to make sure they are simplifying and improving upon the experience affecting the driving force of this industry, the fans. The feedback coming from the field is the feedback that needs pondering.
The idea that Matt and I had started, was now evolving to its final form, mega-awesome-super-amazing-colossal CryptoComics Marketplace FORM!
We are not just revolutionizing the comic book industry, we are reinventing it. Creators and publishers can self-publish comics to the blockchain, turning them into digital assets. Anyone can sell, read, buy, promote, re-sell and trade comic books because they own the copy they purchase tracked on an incorruptible ledger.
This means that creators, comic book stores, publishers, and even fans can now participate on a level not seen since print was the only option. The ability to publish their comic book, and sell that comic book, or re-sell a comic book they have purchased is game-changing. By utilizing blockchain technology we have created a marketplace where residual resale royalties will always be paid on resells to the original creator account. Never before has any creator been paid when their comic resold, until now!
When we set out to make a place for everyone’s comics, we never imagined it could actually work for everyone. After all, the old saying goes “You can’t please everyone”. Thanks to the powerful team of ApogeeInvent and the amazing team of eComicz, our dream of a revolution has become a reality for literally everyone involved!
It’s crazy looking back on everything and seeing where we started and where we are at. We have come such a long way, and I am pretty sure my wife and Matt’s wife might have a different opinion, but we wouldn’t change a thing. (Except for maybe the coke head investor. That was just embarrassing, and stupid!)
TO BE CONTINUED
Jared Brague eComicz | CryptoComics Marketplace Co-Founder, Collector