Rob Pereyda is the craziest editor-in-chief in the industry, and you’re only now just hearing of him. ShiftyLook is his brainchild, a web comics venture that produces series based on (or incredibly loosely inspired by) vintage and new videogames. Namco Bandai, the Japanese mega corporation which produces everything from the Soulcalibur videogames to the Ben 10 toys has given him the freedom to create comics using their IP, which ranges from PacMan to Tekken, DigDug to Tales of Vesperia.
That wouldn’t be news, if not for Pereyda’s unprecedented approach to comics. Using established studios Udon and Cryptozoic to farm out the actual production work, Pereyda has done the one thing that you never see in this industry. Pay people corporate money to produce whatever they feel like. Normally, you either get total creative freedom and no pay, or pay and no creative freedom. By some bizarre ancient magics, he’s managing to pull off both. These web comics are being put online for free, with no outside advertising. They’re not even trying to make money off these, it’s a publicity stunt to drum up interest in some of their lesser known titles. But it’s a very well done publicity stunt which is producing some pretty good comics.
Every creator I spoke to has mentioned how they have had none of the notes and interfering and revisions that you would expect from a project like this. They’ve been given concepts which in many cases are just “this pixel shaped like a spaceship shoots those other pixels shaped like a spaceship” and gone to town, revising and remaining as their hearts desire. The few that are working on tie-ins to games currently in production have spoke about how their ideas are being fed into the game, making them actually part of the development and not just a vestigial appendage used for blatant marketing.
They launched at the start of the month. Shiftylook.com. They have four ongoing web comics, updating twice a week or so. There are more in the hopper, including a project by the incredibly talented Ben McCool (who writes PIGS at Image) which has changed titles twice since I started this article but is currently “The Five-Dimensional Adventures of Dirk Davies.” and an adaptation of the upcoming iOS game “Rocket Fox” which I got to play a demo of and fell in love with. Pereyda has plans. Long term plans. The sort of plans that make you question his sanity, but his confidence and exuberance end up winning you over. Also, he’s ridiculously generous in buying people drinks. Dear lord, the after party at WonderCon. Who knew they made carbombs in SUV sizes?
Cryptozoic and Udon were each given a huge list of possible properties to adapt into comics. It had arcade games that everyone is at least slightly familiar with, down to strange properties that only got released in Japan about a pacifist toy dinosaur that comes to life and has to make his way through crowds by yelling at people. Udon is seriously considering a future adaptation of that one. Normally, the company would dictate what they should produce. Here, the folks who do comics are making the decision based on what they feel makes for good entertainment. I am getting repetitive here because I need to say this a million times due to it being so bizarre.
Now, the two studios are incredibly polite towards each other, and there’s absolutely no animosity or rivalry. At all. Even when they’ve all had a ton of alcohol forced into their systems, they’re all kind and nice and like each other. Which is great, but makes for terrible tabloid reporting. I mean, half of you come to Bleeding Cool because you want to hear about all the nasty things these guys say to each other. So in the interest of creating imaginary controversy, I’ll be reviewing each of the web comics by the studio that produces them.
Cryptozoic is best known for being the lucky folks who landed the World of Warcraft card game license. They also do a ton of videogame adaptations into comics. Their CEO, John Nee, was formerly a bigshot at Wildstorm. The two titles they’re currently producing for ShiftyLook are Alien Confidential, based on an upcoming game, and Xevious, based on an incredibly old school shooter that pretty much started the genre of a spaceship going vertically up the screen shooting down badguys as we know it.
Writer: Mike Costa
Art: Mike Norton
Mike “Smoke and Mirrors, issue one on sale now” Costa is probably better known for his work on GI JOE and the recent aborted Blackhawks launch at DC. He’s developed a reputation for sci-fi military action. Mike “I draw more than just teenage heroes” Norton has a solid pedigree of superhero action from DC and Marvel.
Xevious is a solid tale of alien invasion and love in wartime. A young Argentinean pilot goes to war when his country and indeed the entire world are plagued by an alien invasion, but what of the girl he left behind? The book manages to avoid cliché, and got me to actually care and want to check in on the continuing drama. Norton’s art is expressive and uses the format well.
Writer: Sharon Scott
Art: Andrew Pepoy
Sharon Scott isn’t a household name, though I did like her “More than Mortal” series she wrote at Image and Avatar years ago. (I’m a sucker for mythology based comics.) She’s mainly been busy with videogame writing in the past decade. Andrew Pepoy was inker on Jack of Fables and has been keeping busy in the comic book industry for the past
decade or so.
Alien Confidential has a brilliant premise. In the not too distant future, a weary man with a past keeps bar in one of the few havens for aliens living on Earth either legally or not. It suffers from Scott being new to the restrictions of the web comic format. The action is clipped and hard to follow, what should be fast paced comes across as rushed. Which is a pity, as the concepts she’s working with are solid. Sci-fi noir lite. Pepoy’s art gets the job done, but the format isn’t
really giving him a chance to shine.
That being said, this is something that she’ll adjust to with time. She is a good writer, so I have confidence that this strip will improve and go beyond where it stands now as just okay.
Amazingly enough, UDON’s strips are on time! (Okay, that was a low blow.) UDON has a long history of doing videogame adaptations in comics form, as seen by 95% of everything they’ve ever produced. Street Fighter is their bread and butter though.
Writer: Jim Zub
Art: CHAMBA (Jeffrey Cruz)
Jim Zub has the most experience with web comics out of all the ShiftyLook creators, with his Makeshift Miracle being a shining example of what the medium can do. He also writes Skullkickers at Image, which he’s also putting online as a web comic. He knows what he’s doing. CHAMBA is one of the UDON studio folks, with an upcoming GN RandomVeus.
Sky Kid was a classic shooter about two birds flying biplanes. Zub has taken that and given it a cohesive world, compelling characters. I care about these two birds. They have personalities and emotions and they’re at war. I shouldn’t be this invested in a web comic based on an 80s arcade game that I never played. CHAMBA’s art is delicious. It’s simple, but incredibly expressive.
Writer: Matt Moylan
Artist: Dax “D-Gee” Gordine
Matt Moylan is managing editor at UDON, having previously worked at Dreamwave. He also wrote the “Lil Formers” web comic which is adorable. This series is very much in that vein. Dax “D-Gee” Gordine is unknown to me, but apparently has done some animation and comics work in the past, as well as contributing to Udon art books.
Bravoman is an obscure Japanese game parodying the superheroic sidescroller. The game is pretty much the grandfather of Viewtiful Joe, if that means anything to you. This is the most “gamey” of the comics on the site, being a tongue-in-cheek comedy about a hero with stretchy arms and a ridiculous backstory. It’s cute, it’s silly, it’s pure fluff.
UDON takes the lead, mainly because of Alien Confidential’s growing pains setting Cryptozoic back a few steps. Honestly, the two studio’s productions are so different that there’s no real competition. Both are adapting shooter games into war comics, but no one will ever say that Xevious and Sky Kid are similar. But hey, it’s fun to compare and contrast right?
ShiftyLook is worth taking a shot at. Xevious and Sky Kid are the two shining stars of this launch, and neither update fast enough to make me want to make Shifty Look a daily destination, but who knows what the future will hold? That a new set of web comics has gotten me to the “I’ll check up on it once a month and see what I missed” stage this early in production is saying something, given that 95% of them never grab me. All I can say at this point is that you have never seen anything quite like ShiftyLook and probably never will do so again.