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Clark Kent’s flying off the printed page. Why the rest of the comic world should follow

This week, Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent, told his bombastic editor Perry White to shove it and promptly quit the Daily Planet. The Metropolis newspaper has been his employer since the DC Comics superhero’s earliest days in the late 1930s, and so the decision inevitably made big waves in media (the real kind). Clark’s next job? Still TBD, but writer Scott Lobdell said that he’s “more likely to start the next Huffington Post or the next Drudge Report than he is to go find someone else to get assignments or draw a paycheck from.”

This move is long overdue–Clark Kent has been a newspaper reporter for about 70 years. But the idea of going out on your own, becoming your own boss and taking risks that aren’t permissible in the corporate environment of the Daily Planet resonates with many comic artists I know who have made the same risky but empowering move: to produce their work outside the traditional corporate channels.

When I first started in comics in the early 1990s at Top Cow Productions, the goal was to produce comics better than the Big Two–DC and Marvel. Top Cow was housed in the same offices as Jim Lee’s WildStorm Productions, and it was a seminal moment for independent comics. Some of the very best colorists, pencilers, and inkers were all working under one roof for Top Cow and WildStorm, everyone inspired by the idea of creating new franchises with new characters and owning the copyright. Many years later, I was in a room with world-renowned artists and writers Todd McFarlane and Robert Kirkman as Todd preached: “You don’t want to be famous for doing Stan (Lee) and Jack (Kirby) characters; you want to make your own mark.”  Robert chimed right in with the same sentiments.

That is the spirit that still drives me today. My current project, the graphic novel Anomalyis an example of what can be achieved outside the confines of existing comics franchises. My co-creator Skip Brittenham and I did the New York publishing rounds, and several major houses wanted to publish it.  But we knew that there would be many compromises along the way, and layers and layers of corporate approvals, to achieve half the things we could do on our own.

We wanted to make a product that would be new and innovative and take advantage of emerging technologies like augmented reality, which had never been used in a graphic novel before–all things that involve risk, to which publishers are adverse. So like Clark Kent, we decided to turn our backs on the traditional publishers and start our own company and make our own rules, so we could tell engrossing stories about characters with real life problems and foibles the way we wanted.

Next month, Anomaly will launch as an epic science-fiction adventure—its 370 pages makes it the longest full-color graphic novel, as far we know. It also will be a stand-alone app narrated by actors from science fiction and video games. There’s also a free app for Apple’s iOS and Android with dozens of 3D models.

Here’s a sneak peek:

The irony is that what seems innovative and disruptive today may become part of the establishment tomorrow. Jim Lee eventually sold WildStorm to DC Comics and is now co-publisher of the storied comics brand. Maybe therein lies a lesson for that same company’s most famous comics franchise. If Clark Kent’s blog is successful enough, he could sell it to the Daily Planet and come back as Perry White’s boss.

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