Images by Dave Wachter; courtesy of James Andrew Clark. The Guns of Shadow Valley. Copyright © 2009 David Wachter and James Andrew Clark
“The Guns of Shadow Valley“ is a free Web comic that may be the most exciting example of the publishing democratization allowed by the Web. While self publishing can never be thought of as an easy enterprise, the fact is that publishing a serialized comic story to the Web enables a potential distribution that would be cost prohibitive through traditional publishing.
The stunning art by co-writer and illustrator David Wachter is eye-catching and worthy of anything being published by Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image. And the story — by Wachter and co-creator James Andrew Clark— is an intriguing mash-up of movie westerns and four-color adventure comics. Or, as the creators first conceived of it, “‘The Magnificent Seven’ meets the’ Justice League.'”
We spoke with Mr. Clark to get his thoughts on marketing a Web-based product, how publishing online differs from print, and what’s next for “The Guns of Shadow Valley.”
Osmosis Online: How does your locale (Santa Barbara, California) affect you as a writer, if at all?
James Andrew Clark:: I’m not sure how being a writer in Santa Barbara would be different than being a writer anywhere else, except somewhere completely secluded and isolated. I will say that an advantage of writing in Santa Barbara is that there’s always a beautiful spot from which to write, whether it’s overlooking the ocean or up in the mountains. If I need somewhere relatively quiet with nice scenery, it’s not hard to find at all. Another advantage is that Santa Barbara is close enough to Los Angeles to be near to the hub of the West Coast entertainment industry, while still being far enough away to avoid the hassles of that area.
OO: Are you a particular fan of Westerns? Any specific movies or media you can point to?
JAC: I’ve always loved Westerns, particularly the ‘spaghetti westerns’ by Sergio Leone and the films by John Ford with their sweeping, wide panoramic shots of cowboys against the scenic backgrounds of the west. We tried to emulate that look and feel with “The Guns of Shadow Valley”, which is why we chose the landscape orientation of the pages and some of the layouts. Other influences were from other movies we loved like “Shane,” “The Wild Bunch,” “Silverado,” and “The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.,” TV series. I’m also a fan of western pulp novels by the likes of Louis L’Amour and Elmore Leonard.
OO: How did you first come up with the idea for Guns of Shadow Valley? How close has the Web comic kept to your original vision?
JAC: Dave (Wachter, the co-writer/illustrator) had the original idea of doing a western crossed with superheroes. He pitched the concept to me at San Diego Comic Con International a couple years back, with the idea that it would be “The Magnificent Seven” meets the Justice League. We started building characters and plot elements around the idea until we had the story in place. As for our original vision, we’ve been able to follow that all the way along. That’s one of the benefits of self-publishing . . . We can stay true to the story, concepts, and characters we created without having to sacrifice our vision. The only people we have to please are ourselves and our audience.
OO: Being that you’ve done traditionally published comics and now the Web-centric comic — can you speak to the difference between writing for each, publishing each, and garnering a fan base for each?
JAC: Writing for a Web comic is very similar to writing for a published comic, with the exception of pacing. With a published book, you have to pace the story according to the issues that are published. For example, a scene can flow continuously from page to page, with cliffhangers usually going at the end of the issue. But with a Web comic, you have to account for the fact that each page potentially stands on its own, and that most readers will be waiting a week before they see the next page. Pacing has to be very deliberate. You have to give some gold to the reader on every page to keep them satisfied until the next one. A nice benefit resulting from that can be seen when you go back and read the story from beginning to end. Everything feels more deliberate and it’s more satisfying.
Publishing is easier for us independent guys who are doing it on our own because we don’t have the printing and distribution costs to worry about. We can reach a wider audience on a smaller budget with more immediate distribution. We’re also more in touch with our audience and able to get immediate feedback as each page goes up. In many ways it’s more rewarding than traditional self-publishing.
Garnering a fan base is hard work, especially at first. It requires lots of promotion, spreading the word online through social media like Twitter and Facebook, and going to conventions. Word of mouth is the best promotional tool we have going for us, so it’s important to interact with our fans so they’ll bring more readers. Dave does the majority of this legwork, posting on comic forums and going to conventions all over the country.
OO: Is a collected, physical edition of “The Guns of Shadow Valley” due any time soon?
JAC: We sell a ‘preview’ book at conventions that contains the first 17 pages of the Web comic to whet the appetite. We intend to eventually collect the series in a printed book once we have enough material online.
OO: What other projects do you have on the horizon, whether comics or non-comics?
JAC: We’re still plugging away at “The Guns of Shadow Valley” and there’s a lot more story to tell there. I think Dave keeps very busy with that and his commission work, especially right now with the convention season in full swing. I’m writing a new horror/adventure graphic novel that will start out as a short story in an upcoming anthology. I also pretend to be a musician and am working on my second album (www.snakeoilmusic.com).
OO: With the launch of the iPad and several comics-reading apps for that device and the iPhone, do you guys have any plans to migrate “The Guns of Shadow Valley” over and take advantage of those platforms?
JAC: Nope, nothing of that sort yet. Maybe someday, but we’re busy enough just getting a page up on the Web each week!
I’d like to thank Mr. Clark for his time and insight. And, please — if you haven’t checked out The Guns of Shadow Valley yet, please do so, www.gunsofshadowvalley.com. .