ShiftyLook Closes – But Udon To Keep Their Comics Going If They Can

bravomanTekno. Virgin. Radical.

Now ShiftyLook can join the band of people with plenty of money trying to take a punt in the comics industry – until they suddenly can’t anymore. Namco/Bandai’s funded webcomics in an attempt to revive faded video game IP launched big, recruited talent, had a large presence at comic conventions, but that has faded of late…

Big parties, big publicity, great creator names but in the end… sad indifference, when they investment doesn’t make the income.

But they aren’t totally going away. Shifty Look have offered the following statement.

Dear ShiftyLook Fans:
We originally got the ShiftyLook project going at NAMCO BANDAI Games Inc. back in Fall 2011. The idea was to take the unused, “sleeping” video game characters of our past and bring them back first with webcomics, and then – once they had gotten enough traction – expand into other media like web animation, games, and merchandise.
I’m happy to say that we’ve done this with Wonder Momo, Bravoman, and some other very cool characters, which are now beloved not just in gamer circles, but at conventions, art groups, and many, many places we’d never expect. That said, now that we have successfully revived so many franchises, the heavy lifting is completed – and so is our work. We battled the video games abyss and won, which means it’s time for us to move on and let the hit-makers play with some new toys.
While we are melancholy about ShiftyLook as an overall project going away, Wonder Momo, our star franchise, has some exciting things happening for it. WayForward Technologies, lord of the platformer gaming universe, is making their most ambitious game yet in Wonder Momo. Kotaku loved it in an early preview and we know you will, too. There is a whole line of Wonder Momo t-shirts available over at WeLoveFine.com, and the long-awaited Wonder Momo hardcover comic book is on the way from UDON Entertainment.
For some housekeeping, here is what is happening to what at ShiftyLook (all dates JST):
CLOSING:
BRAVOMAN: Binja Bash! on the App Store, Google Play, and Amazon Appstore: In-app purchases available until March 16, 2014; download available through March 30, 2014
Namco High on ShiftyLook.com: Purchase available via Crunchyroll through March 28, 2014; servers shut down (no longer able to play) on June 30, 2014
ShiftyLook comics: Bravoman ends at #300; Wonder Momo ends at #200; Katamari ends at #150; Galaga ends at #100; Valkyrie ends at #100; Klonoa ends at #65; Tower of Babel ends at #26; Dig Dug Vol. 2 ends at #18
ShiftyLook website: No more updates after March 20, 2014; servers shut down on September 30, 2014; forums close on March 20, 2014
STAYING OPEN:
Wonder Momo video game: To be released on schedule on select digital download platforms
Wonder Momo anime: Stays on Crunchyroll and YouTube to view for free worldwide
Bravoman, Wonder Momo, Katamari, and Galaga books: Releasing as scheduled by UDON Entertainment
Bravoman, Wonder Momo, Katamari, and other apparel: Stays available on WeLoveFine.com
Katamari and Galaga plush toys and rugs: Stays available on Squishable.com
Thank you all so much for enjoying ShiftyLook. We’ll all miss you.
Sincerely,
-Team Shifty

Matt Moylan, Managing Editor of UDON Entertainment who provided much of the content for ShiftyLook – as well as writing 300 episodes of Bravoman himself – writes to Bleeding Cool,

As a creator, working on Shiftylook comics was a great experience. Besides a few restrictions here and there, all of which are typical for this kind of work, we were given freedom to do pretty much whatever we wanted, allowing us to reinvent these properties in new and exciting ways. Writing Bravoman for 300 strips has been one of the most creatively rewarding experiences I’ve ever had in comics. I could write these wacky characters forever. The page rates offered by Shiftylook were top notch even for mainstream comics, let alone webcomics. On top of that they always paid on time — there’s no Dreamwave/Crossgen style scandal here.

I’m also quite proud that the comics are finally making it to print form, with the hardcover BRAVOMAN VOL.1 in stores now collecting the first 130+ strips. WONDER MOMO VOL.1 will follow suit in a few months, and UDON is going to give our all to keep these properties and others going as a book line. And who knows, if we can sell enough, maybe we can convince Bandai to let us create all-new material for them once again.

Looking at why Shiftylook has come to an end, there are a lot of reasons. In my opinion they invested a lot up front on promotion and marketing to make the site launch with a big bang. Even though they were just starting out, they set up enormous booths at conventions with live music, arcade machines, free t-shirts, and more. It was impressive, but it also kind of overwhelmed the focus on making webcomics. I guess that’s the double-edged sword that comes from being the subsidiary of a large company like Bandai.

There were plans to monetize these comics to support operations, but those plans didn’t materialize until quite recently. They did finally come out with two games near the end of 2013, but I felt neither of them was very well planned out. The Bravoman mobile app was a bit rushed and not polished as well as they wanted, and adding a freemium pay-to-play model to it made it a tough sell in the crowded mobile market. Their second game, Namco High, was a visual novel. That’s a genre that’s very popular in Japan but still quite a niche market here in the west. It seemed to be banking largely on Andrew Hussie’s mega-popular Homestuck characters as guest stars to bring in an audience, which was an interesting experiment but it seemed that the Homestuck fans weren’t looking for a crossover. There’s still the upcoming Wonder Momo game from WayForward, which actually seems like a perfect match, but it’s unfortunately coming out too late to save the comics.

In the end, I feel the current webcomics like Bravoman, Wonder Momo, Katamari, and Klonoa are actually at the popularity levels that a decent webcomic SHOULD be at after only 1 or 2 years. If properly monetized, they would probably be able to modestly support their creators, but that’s not enough to support a company with expenses like Shiftylook.

We look forward to hearing from more ShiftyLook creators soon. Jim Zub has written,

I wrote a plethora of strips for the site at different points in its development: Wonder Momo, Klonoa, Sky Kid, and Dragon Spirit. Getting the chance to create new stories and characters for so many game properties was a blast. The gang at ShiftyLook were incredibly supportive and hard working, and gave the creative teams brought on board lots of latitude to create the stories we wanted to tell. We were well paid and well treated through and through.

The original purpose of ShiftyLook, a streamlined way to reintroduce defunct Bandai-Namco’s IPs and put them in front of as big an audience as possible for a fraction of the cost of developing a video game or anime, was forward thinking and had a lot of potential. If it stayed focused on that and built organically from there I think it could have fully carried through on that mandate. Once it became a corporate hot potato with bigger budgets and unrealistic expectations, it couldn’t sustain itself on a free-to-read webcomic model.

Klonoa: Dream Traveler of Noctis Sol doesn’t wrap up with a definitive ending, so I hope Hitoshi Ariga and I are able to revisit it at some point down the road. Even still, it was great adding to such a beloved cast of characters.

Wonder Momo: Battle Idol will be wrapping up with strip #200 and it has a solid ending that’s been planned for some time. I’m really proud that Erik, Omar, and I were able to bring Momo back to the masses and build it up into ShiftyLook’s most popular strip, which was then spun off into an anime mini-series and upcoming video game. I hope Wonder Momo carries on with the momentum we generated.

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