For our August Web Comic of the Month, we’re looking at Wayward Sons: Legends, by Benny R. Powell, Weilin Yang, Youjun Yang, and Kun Song. This is a full color comic, updated Monday through Friday, every week.
Structured like a traditional comic book, Wayward Sons: Legends is released daily, with each strip being about the size and layout of a page out of a regular, printed comic. Being updated every weekday, you pretty much get a full comic every month, just one page at a time. A very ambitious schedule, but one that’s been kept since it began, which is not an easy thing to do by any means.
The story grabbed me from the beginning, something about that opening bit of dialog.
Today I imprison my former mentor and leader. Today I imprison my dearest friend.
— Captain Suras
That friend Suras is talking about is Kronos, one of the more than three hundred thousand prisoners on their way to being exiled to another dimension. The job of overseeing this process fell to Captain Suras and his crew aboard their spaceship, the Ulympea. Well, something went terribly wrong with the plan, and…you can go check it out for the rest. Trust me, it’s a great read.
I’ve enjoyed the storytelling and artwork of Wayward Sons: Legends. I also like the coloring on this comic. There are plenty of web comics done in black and white, which is just fine, however, it is nice to see colors executed well. This comic could easily fit right in with the quality books that we see from the big publishers. You’ll find good sequential storytelling here.
It’s a genre-shattering story that is at once science fiction AND fantasy. It’s light-hearted, yet tragic. It’s epic, yet focused.
— Benny R. Powell
Sounds about right to me. Wayward Sons: Legends may hold the secret origins of what we know to be myths of ancient times. That spaceship is named the Ulympea after all.
Guys from outer space meeting a…is that a shepherd?!? Yep, that’s a shepherd with a couple of sheep. Don’t worry though, this comic isn’t just god-worshiping-livestock-tenders. Check out this lion-headed guy getting floored!
Benny R. Powell
Powell has had quite a career in the comic business. He’s worked at Marvel, and found success on his projects. He’s got plenty of experience, and knows the industry pretty well. I was able to catch up with him, over email, to chat about his comic, and other important things.
Comic Attack: Do you remember the first comic you ever read?
Benny R. Powell: I remember (vaguely) reading through a batch of comics when I was a kid — mainly of the Richie Rich variety. They were the kind you’d invariably be given at the tender age of 4 or 5 years old that would be looked at and thrown away.
But the first comic I can really remember picking up that ignited my passion for comics was Uncanny X-Men 199. I remember that I had seen a children’s magazine at school called, 3-2-1 Contact. This particular issue was about mutants that focused on the X-Men and New Mutants at Marvel for most of the issue. I was intrigued and devoured that issue so much the teacher let me keep it. Thus when I spotted issue #199 on a spinner in the local grocery store (anyone remember those?) I just HAD to have it. From that moment on, I was hooked!
CA: What was the first comic that you created? When?
BRP: Hah, well a couple years after discovering comics, I remember getting excited about a funny show that was called Dynaman. It was basically a parody dub of what would a decade later be Power Rangers. It reminded me of G-Force/Battle of the Planets (aka Gatchaman) that I enjoyed thoroughly, so I created a comic called Iron Beasts that would later be the inspiration for my first creator-owned comic called Warrior’s Way.
My first professional comic, however, was What If #77 for Marvel comics. It was the alternate “Age of Apocalypse” story titled “What if Legion Had Killed Magneto?” It was supposed to be a two-parter but got condensed into one. Further, Warren Ellis was tapped to do the dialogue to add a “name” to the issue. Still, breaking in at Marvel comics at the young age of 20, while still an intern, was unheard of. It’s a feat I don’t know if anyone’s duplicated since, but outside of Stan Lee, I don’t think anyone had before. It was an honor, and it definitely jump-started my entire career.
CA: Have we seen your work anywhere else?
BRP: Outside of comics? Well I was the original priceline.com writer and I’ve ghost-written numerous books. I’m embarrassed to say that if you’re a late-night infomercial junkie, that you’ve probably seen some of my work there as well. In short, if you’ve ever seen an ad that says to “attend my free 2-hour workshop” where you’ll either learn about Real Estate or how to invest or use investing software… yeah that was me.
CA: You’ve worked on several books in your career; which are you most proud of?
BRP: This is going to sound self-serving, but Wayward Sons without a doubt, because it’s one of those projects where I feel lightning has been captured in a bottle. Before that I was very proud of Warrior’s Way, but there was still a lot that I felt could have been better. I mean mainly in my own writing.
I think that Wayward Sons, though, I couldn’t be prouder of the work my artists have done and what we’ve put together.
CA: How did Wayward Sons come about?
BRP: Yet another “I’m dating myself” moment here, but Wayward Sons actually started out as a Bulletin Board System (BBS) role-playing game. It was called Pantheon at the time, and was played briefly on a two-board system between my own X-Mansion BBS, which had two lines and my friend Steven Rungtranont’s “The Mariah Carey Singing BBS.” We had about a dozen players, and it lasted a year of college.
I refined the idea over the years and almost published a version of the comic with Ron Lim and Larry Hama in the late 90’s. But ever since, I kept working on it as a mental exercise.
I got out of comics professionally back when Marvel was going through a bankruptcy. My own company had collapsed (long story). Then I was tagged to write the revivals of both Rom and Micronauts – but both of my editors were fired on the SAME day. I took it as a cue to leave the industry for awhile. That’s when I got into marketing.
A couple years ago, while doing marketing at the MAGIC convention in Las Vegas, I was hanging out with some of the Hollywood types. This was during the writer’s strike and they found out about my past as a comic book writer. They instantly began digging for any comic properties or scripts I may have lying around that could be made into movies. I thought of Wayward Sons, which I had sort of plotted out a basic plot in the back of mind for a movie, so I figured, “What the hey?”
When I told them, they seemed to get excited. They encouraged me to write a “Treatment” which is basically an expanded synopsis/pitch. So I did, figuring nothing would come of it. That generated some interest, so they asked me to write an outline. Again, I decided to indulge them, and again there was some excitement. So, I was convinced to write the full script. Now, I had never had any aspirations to write a movie. I know that’s probably weird, as it seems to be everyone’s goal as writers, but it just wasn’t in my world beyond a mental exercise. But, they caught me literally at a moment where my wife and kids were in Japan and I didn’t have a lot of work, so I hunkered down and did it.
Long story short, the script led to me getting an agent with William Morris, which led to my script being picked up by Red Giant Media, which finally led to me deciding to dive back into comics to create a sort of “prequel” series online.
I’d been a reader of online comics for YEARS and actually owned one of the first Webcomics portals called Benchcomics.com. So I had watched that industry grow and mature since its very beginning. So, when my Producers asked what company I wanted to publish with, contrary to conventional wisdom, I immediately said ONLINE at Keenspot. I’ve known the owners for over 15 years, so to me it was a no-brainer.
CA: What is your favorite strip so far?
BRP: Well I call them “pages” since my format is actually more of the same as a standard comic page layout. I’d say that page 23 from issue #1 is probably one of my favorites so far. It was the first page I got to actually do what I enjoy most — humor. Unfortunately, most of issue #1 dealt with a violent prison break, so there wasn’t a whole lot of opportunities to “add the funny.” But I tend to try to be more humorous in what I enjoy doing, so now that things have calmed down a bit in the plot, we’ll start seeing a lot more of that.
I got a lot of positive feedback from page 10 of issue 2. In fact, I had multiple people at San Diego Comic-Con walk up to my booth and start QUOTING lines from it and the aforementioned page 23 of issue 1. That’s beyond gratifying to me.
CA: What are your goals for the comic?
BRP: Well the movie is still in development, so that’s a pretty big goal. Another thing most people aren’t aware of is, there will be a second comic as well. The subtitle “Legends” is a clue. There will be a “Wayward Sons” comic book sans “Legends” that takes place nearly 5,000 years later (aka now).
Additionally, we’ll also start going into print and other merchandise spin-offs. There’s even talks with several book publishers about a novel version of the series.
CA: What do you do when not writing the next Wayward Sons comic?
Seriously, though, my day-job is a co-owner of Dynetech Solutions, which is a marketing company that also handles a lot of business services. One of our biggest products is actually printing. We have the least-expensive offset printing that I’ve ever seen, and we debuted this service to the comics community at San Diego. I sincerely hope to save a lot of people a lot of money so that they can actually make money in comics, not just break even.
CA: What is your creative environment like? Noise, silence, day, night, what?
BRP: I have both a home office and a work office. I honestly tend to get a lot more done at my home office, because I’m more comfortable there. Unfortunately, the demands of running a company often require me to actually be in the office building during the day, which actually tends to be noisier and more distracting.
CA: What are your goals in the comic business?
BRP: I’d like to see comics, and reading in general, grow. As a medium we’ve been circling the toilet bowl, pandering to an ever-shrinking, ever-aging crowd and not really doing anything to reach out to tomorrow’s readers. If a kid can go to the comics store and buy maybe a dozen comics for $50 or spend that same money on a video game, there’s little question where they’re going to spend their money. Unless they’re predisposed to buy the comics in some way, there’s no chance they’re going to do that.
Webcomics are a great way to reach out to this younger audience and cultivate tomorrow’s readers.
CA: Do you have any tips for aspiring web comic creators in our audience?
BRP: The one thing I’d say is to focus on creating as polished a product as possible. There are a lot of great resources out there, such as Webcomics.com that can help aspiring Web comic book creators learn things that many of the early pioneers had to learn through trial-and error.
That’s not to say that anyone has fully figured this new medium out. There are a lot of things I’m doing that seem to be working contrary to even established beliefs in how things should work. So, I guess there’s still room for experimentation.
CA: Any advice for artists in our audience who might be looking at their web comic as a business?
BRP: Don’t expect to make money for quite awhile. There are honestly only a handful of people doing this and making a living, and I’ve seen over 16,000 Webcomics registered on sites such as thewebcomiclist.com.
Taking a look at most successful Webcomics, you’ll find that they’re professionally presented and well-polished. They tend to bear more than a striking similarity to the mainstream comics in their quality.
But if you look through these guys’ archives, you’ll see that most of them didn’t start out as well-crafted as they are today, so this is definitely something you can learn on-the-job. So if you’re looking to do this, expect to do it over the long haul. It’s not going to be an overnight success story.
We certainly haven’t turned the profit corner ourselves. We’re maybe 1/10th of the audience we need just to break even at this point. But that’s actually ahead of where I expected with a little over 2 months since launch.
CA: What’s the first thing a web comic artist should do to develop their fan base (beyond publishing an awesome web comic, that is)?
BRP: Advertising and marketing without a doubt. That can be anything from grass-roots campaigns, to posting in forums, to doing guest strips on others’ sites, to buying ads through services such as project wonderful. Not everything costs money, but it does take a lot of time… and time is money. So be willing to invest one or both.
I often say to clients in my marketing firm that unless you’re Kevin Costner, don’t expect to “Build it and they will come.”
CA: You’re given the chance to do a mini-series featuring any character from comic history; who do you choose? Why?
BRP: Oh, good question. I’m going to probably say Rachel Summers aka Phoenix. She made her big splash in Uncanny X-Men 199 and I think that she was just a great character. She was from an alternate future, but couldn’t ever really connect with her father, because she was never born and didn’t know how to explain who she was. I was going through my adolescent angst of not connecting with my own dad at the time, so that sort of resonated with me. Unfortunately the character sort of dwindled away and I don’t think she was ever really given a fair shake.
I think I’d also really like to tackle Iron Man, but in more of an on-going sense. I think that the comic needs something major to shake things up and if you read it, it’s actually grown rather stale. Unlike the movies, which are great, they’re really not taking much chances with the character anymore in my opinion and I’ve long had a really major change I’d like to introduce with the character that would take him to the next level of growth.
CA: Person you’d love to get the chance to work with on a comic?
BRP: See this is the type of question that can get me in trouble. I know so many pros who I’d love to work with that naming any one of them might alienate others. I think some of my friends I’d like to work with include Ron Lim, Jim Calafiore and Jamal Igle though. But anyone I’m not naming, if you come across this… I’d love to work with you too!
CA: Who is your favorite character from comics? Why?
BRP: Hawkman. For some reason, the thought of having wings and soaring above the world has always appealed to me. Most of my favorite characters can fly in fact.
CA: What’s the best comic book being published right now?
BRP: Well of course the best comic being published right now would be Wayward Sons. But aside from self-serving propaganda, I’d have to say that I really love PS238 by Aaron Williams over at Nodwick.com. It’s a fun comic that’s packed with humor that hits my funny bone. I just wish he were still printing Nodwick, because that was one of my favorite books as well.
CA: Favorite comic movie?
BRP: Iron Man, the first one, was pretty darn near perfect. I really enjoyed the second, but I hope for the third that they branch outside of menaces that he inadvertently creates as their formula.
CA: Comic book movie that needs to be made, but hasn’t yet?
BRP: Wonder Woman. I know why they’re having so much trouble with it, and how I would fix it. But there’s simply no reason that the most iconic female superhero can’t get a movie made.
CA: Cast yourself in the Green Lantern movie as anyone but Hal Jordan. Where would you fit in?
BRP: Gnort… because I have no desire to ever be in a movie, even as a cameo… But if I were in heavy makeup and unrecognizable, as a background character… sure.
CA: What is your favorite animated TV series or movie, based on a comic?
BRP: Justice League / Justice Unlimited was practically perfect in every way. The Spectacular Spider-Man series that lasted two seasons was pretty awesome as well. Right now my kids are really into Superhero Squad, which I really wanted to hate… but it’s enjoyable for what it is.
CA: Best all-time hero supporter, as in Alfred Pennyworth, Rick Jones, etc?
BRP: I’d say you nailed it on the second one there. Rick Jones was just great. He was the ultimate sidekick and friend. I really think that he’s perhaps the world’s greatest almost-hero.
CA: Who’s the tougher Enterprise skipper, Captain Kirk or Captain Picard? Why?
BRP: Everyone asks this one. LOL. I’ll go with my usual answer that I liked Picard better as a character. He was a much more three-dimensional character. But Kirk definitely got him the ladies. And after working with Bill at priceline, I can definitely appreciate his work.
CA: Who’d win in a battle to the death between Suras & Kronos vs. Reed Richards & Dr. Doom?
BRP: Sheer power, Reed and Doom are outclassed, hands down. If Suras & Kronos teamed up and didn’t give Richards or Doom a chance to think their way out of it, they’d be obliterated. However, given chance and time to prepare, I’m sure those two minds could come up with some gizmo that would nullify their powers. That’s what they do, right?
CA:What’s the one book you’d want to have if stranded on a deserted island?
BRP: I’m going to cheat and say the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I can read and re-read that book every couple years and enjoy it every time.
CA: There is a concern among some that the proliferation of traditional comics being made available online may somehow lead to the decline of printed comics. What are your thoughts on the future of printed comic books in our modern digital age?
BRP: As I said above, print comics are ALREADY declined. Back in the 80’s, a comic book selling under 50,000 was on the chopping block. In the early 90’s, that number was 30,000 with top comics selling in the millions of copies. By the mid-to-late 90’s, when I was at Marvel, any book selling 15,000 units was near cancellation range and the top-selling books were selling half a million copies. Today, the top selling books sell a little over 100,000 issues, and you have major publishers considering 10,000 a successfully selling title.
These declines were happening long before the advent of Webcomics. It was more to do with the costs of the product, the move to the direct market, the ill-fated purchase Marvel made of Heroes World and subsequent collapse of the distribution system into a monopoly. In the early 90’s there were over 12,000 independent comic stores that routinely would purchase comics from both Diamond and Capital… Post Heroes World, that number shrank to just over 6,000. Today I’m told that there are only 1200.
That’s a 90% decrease in distribution and printing in less than two decades!
If anything, I think that the Web should be seen as a possible salvation to the print industry. We’ve seen that people who read comics online are actually MORE apt to buy new comics in print form that they’ve already read. That’s a proven formula.
Do I think print comics are going to go away entirely? No, for two main reasons…
First, despite the hype of e-readers, comics are fundamentally a tactile sensation. I don’t think you can ever replace the feeling entirely of holding a comic book, feeling and even SMELLING the pages.
Second, comics have always had a “collector” fanbase built into them. You can’t really “collect” or “sign” digital content. That will also be a major factor.
What I think will most likely happen is a market where new readers can “try” their favorite books online, then buy the print volumes or collections, and then buy a portable electronic version to collect and read on-the-go. All three variations have their strengths and value to the end user.
Understanding that and embracing it, I feel, will be a major step in helping the industry as a whole.
Thanks so much for giving us some of your time. I must say, you’ve given us quite a good look at things in this beloved medium of ours. I for one, agree wholeheartedly about the smell of comic books. One of the very best aromas, that comic book smell. I know that for myself, reading web comics has served to increase my interest in comics in general, no matter the format.
So, when you’ve finished reading this column, head on over and check out Wayward Sons: Legends right now, you won’t be disappointed.
More of Wayward Sons: Legends