Artistic Licensed: How BOOM! Studios is Utilizing Today’s Top Webcomics Talent

A page from Adventure Time #10. Art by Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline.

A page from Adventure Time #10. Art by Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline.

As discussed before on Deadshirt, the modern webcomics scene is a thriving community with dozens of writers and artists producing comics of every genre and format. It’s somewhat surprising, then, that there isn’t more crossover between major publishers and professional webcomic creators. Marvel and DC tend to stick to known-quantity creators who have extensive résumés in the industry, and Image arguably focuses even more on marquee names. It’s a strategy that’s worked for them in the past, but it’s self-limiting by necessity. BOOM! Studios is taking a different approach.

For their comics of ongoing Cartoon Network series like Adventure Time and Regular Show, BOOM! has actively sought out prolific webcomics names. Writers like Meredith Gran, Danielle Corsetto, and Kate Leth have all written Adventure Time miniseries and graphic novels; many more contributed back-up stories and variant covers. It’s a strategy that seems to be mutually beneficial. Ryan North, creator of Dinosaur Comics and To Be or Not To Be: That is the Adventure, is also the writer of the Adventure Time ongoing series. He describes BOOM! and Cartoon Network as being comparatively relaxed about his use of the characters in the series.

“Each script I write does go through several layers of approval: my editor, BOOM! itself, then Cartoon Network and Pen Ward,” said North, “but everyone is great and nobody ever says “no” to me. Maybe there actually are lots of rules, and I’ve just, by completely random chance, avoided them so far. Either way I’m really happy! Usually I’ll talk to Pen if I’m writing any backstory stuff, to make sure it doesn’t conflict with anything coming up on the show.”

“In theory the challenge is that you’re playing in somebody else’s sandbox,” North continued. “But like I said, nobody has told me no, so it feels very similar [to Dinosaur Comics]. I try to tell the best story I can and then we see what comes out at the other end! I guess the difference with Adventure Time is that I don’t have to make everything up as I go: the AT team has already done lots of the work there for me!”

Gunshow creator KC Green, the writer of the Regular Show ongoing series, felt the same way. “I get notes about the story through my editor who I believe has more contact with the actual show people,” said Green. “I wasn’t given guidelines, but I knew the show well enough by that point to understand what to do and what not to do. Sometimes I would get notes here and there, and only once did I protest given that the show itself did something similar in a funny way. Most of the time, it is just story notes, dialogue changes, etc.”

Page from Regular Show #1. Art by Alison Strejlau.

A page from Regular Show #1. Art by Alison Strejlau.

Green also discussed the differences between writing for Gunshow, which he also draws, and picking up sole writer duties. “I have to be more clear when I’m writing and more thorough than I usually am, since I am writing for another person and other people have to be clear about what I am trying to do,” explained Green. “When I write for myself I am sloppy and vague because I already have the comic in my head, too, so I don’t need to worry about it as much. Other people aren’t me, though, so there is more time editing and cleaning it all up. The only other thing I worry about is that having too little or where to end the part of the story at so it keeps you coming to the next issue. It’s similar for when I do a big story on Gunshow, but less of a hassle since you don’t usually wait a whole month to see the next time.”

Green’s absurd, occasionally morbid comedic style is a perfect fit for Regular Show. He has a good handle on the voices of the characters, and the multiple-issue story arcs provide a change of pace from the show, and a chance to dig more deeply into character interactions. Gunshow often features the kind of surreal, over-the-top characters and creatures Regular Show pulls out in its third act, so it’s not hard to see why Green hit the ground running.

When asked, Green said his favorite thing he’s done so far in the series was “the end of the haircut one when the guy’s butt gets cut off,” while North had a little more trouble deciding. “Usually the most recent arc is always my favourite,” he explained.  “But the choose-your-own-path issue (Issue 10) was lots of fun, and Issue 25 was terrific for me, because it was the first time I got the full issue to play with: normally there’s a backup story there too.  So for that I got to tell a longer, more complex story about LOVE and FEELINGS and also FIGHT SCENES.”

A page from Shiftylook's Galaga. Art by Christopher Hastings and Anthony Clark.

A page from Shiftylook’s Galaga. Art by Christopher Hastings and Anthony Clark.

North also wrote Shiftylook’s adaptation of Galaga. I asked him how that experience differed from adapting an established, ongoing plot-driven franchise.

Galaga was lots of fun!” said North. “I had complete freedom: literally all I was told was “Galaga.”  Shiftylook wanted a comic version of Galaga and wanted to see what I came up with. And the story of Galaga is PRETTY THIN: aliens attack, you blow them up, the end. So I decided to treat the comic like it was the licensed comics adaptation of Galaga The Movie, a big summer tentpole movie. And any good movie version of a game is going to do a few things: it’s gonna update the story for modern times, it’s going to lovingly reference different aspects of the game, and it’s going to have a lot of explosions and rad fight scenes. So that’s what I tried to include! I walked around the park with my dog and started figuring out how to make everything make sense: from the ship, to the aliens, to the idea of points and extra ships and everything else.”

BOOM! is also beginning to use their webcomics talent pool for new series and original IPs. Noelle Stevenson of the webcomic NIMONA, has a new ongoing, Lumberjanes, coming out this spring via their BOOM! Box imprint and North himself is currently writing the BOOM! published sci-fi mini-series The Midas Flesh.

Overall, BOOM!’s licensed properties provide fertile soil from creators from all kinds of backgrounds to work. The characters are familiar but writers are allowed to bring their own spin, and by all accounts editorial interference is minimal. The properties are malleable enough for miniseries, one-shots, imaginary tales, and more. Not all webcomic creators want to write for mainstream publishers, and not all big publishers are interested in changing their set-ups. But for those who are, BOOM! Studios’ active scouting in the webcomics community is a solid model.

Two panels from BOOM! Studios' upcoming original series, Lumberjanes. Art by Brooke Allen.

Two panels from BOOM! Studios’ upcoming original series, Lumberjanes. Art by Brooke Allen.

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