Thursday, August 28, 2008

Posted By on August 28, 2008, 12:45 PM

For most internet readers, the selection for Utah based websites that focus on entertainment is mighty thin.  I should know, I'm typing on one right now.  But recently that pool of information just got filled a little more.

--- Big Shiny Robot has taken local geek related news and made it more accessible than ever before.  Offering everything from previews on Utah publications, all the way to DVD reviews and info on major industry rumblings to boot.  I got a chance to chat with creators Lucas and Bryan on the creation of the site, the attention it's gotten since, their thoughts on comics today, and a few other topics that came to mind.

Lucas (Sketched) and Bryan (not avaliable... ERROR)

Gavin: What's up guys. First off, tell us a little about yourselves.

Lucas: Well, I'm Lucas. My alias on BSR! is Kill-tacular-tron. I've been working in Graphic Design for about 3 or 4 years now.

I'm Bryan. I produced This Divided State and Killer At Large. I also helped Derek Hunter (along with Elias Pate) write Pirate Club and Gamma Rae. Do you need anything else? Because I'm not giving you my social security number or anything...

Gavin: A blood sample would be nice, but I'm good for now.  How did you first get interested in comics?

Lucas: I've always thought comics were an interesting medium. When I was a kid my Mom would buy me comics off the magazine rack at the grocery store if I was well behaved. This was really exciting and frustrating at the same time. It seemed like I'd miss every other issue of something.

Bryan: You know, I don't remember a time I didn't have comics around. Which is weird because my parents were the opposite of nerds. But it reached a fever pitch with me in Jr. High and High School and then got worse when I got my first job. But I owned a comic book store in Orem for a couple of years, too. I just love comics, the whole medium, and can honestly say I don't remember a time when I didn't feel that way. Same with Star Wars. Have I ever mentioned that I love Star Wars?

What were some of your favorite titles growing up?

Lucas: The two I always picked up were Sonic The Hedgehog and anything Spider-Man. I actually started my "artist" career by drawing my own comics involving Sonic. He was a lot easier to draw and less anatomically correct. The artwork on that book took a weird turn as I got older. It went from classic Sonic (Archie style) to a manga feel. This was a big part of the reason I stopped reading it.

Bryan: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a really big one for me. Batman, too... I've got every issue of Batman from “Death In The Family” to today... I was really into DC during the whole Death Of Superman thing and Knightfall.

Gavin: So how did the two of you originally meet up?

Lucas: Our mutual friend Derek Hunter (of Pirate Club fame) hooked them up with me for a freelance job. Bryan's company Shinebox was producing a documentary called Killer At Large. I created the "Killer At Large" website for them.

Bryan: Yeah... That's exactly how it happened.

What persuaded you to want to start

Lucas: While I was working on the KAL site for Bryan, we would talk over instant messenger for tweaks and revisions. Both being huge nerds, we would quote Ghostbusters or Star Wars during these conversations. This sparked many a nerd conversation until we both decided it would be extra awesome to have a site where we could post nerd news we all share everyday. We all get IM's or e-mails from nerd friends sharing news or reviews for nerd stuff. "Guess who is playing this character," or "it was just announced this game is going to be made." The site would just be a funnel to catch all of that. The key would be getting all of our nerd friends to help write for the site.

Bryan: It didn't take much persuading, though with as busy as the both of us are, it should have.

Gavin: What was the process like getting it started up, and did you have any help before the launch?

Lucas: To be honest, there wasn't a lot of prep before launch. I already had the URL for with wordpress already on it. So it was a matter of me setting up a simple design, as well as blasting all of our friends with e-mails about joining. Most everyone wanted to join, and those that didn't want to join now.

Bryan: And then I just started writing stuff up.

Gavin: When it finally went up, what was the reaction like from the public?

Lucas: At first it was six or seven of us posting a lot every day, and commenting on each other's stuff. A lot of readers started to hit our site because we had a lot of news first. I think the biggest thing that helped the site take off was “The Dark Knight” viral marketing. We participated in a lot of it, and posted about our experiences. At one point we had posted an exclusive trailer not meant to be on the internet at the time. Shortly after a few hours, we received a cease and desist order from Warner Brothers. I think that's when we knew the site had really taken off.

(The Warner Bros. Letter)

I think the best piece of reaction we got was when Marvel ran a quote of mine from a review of Mark Millar's Kick-Ass in one of their press releases. I knew then that the right people were reading the site and I'm probably not going to stop until... well... I don't see a time I'd want to stop at this point.

Gavin: You've actually gotten some help since the launch. Tell us about your writers and staff.

Lucas: Our staff writers are great. It worked out that most of us all had a niche. We all hit different news sites or look for different releases. This helps us to offer a well rounded selection of articles for our readers. The first of my friends to get recruited was Tyson (Arse-Bot). We've been into comics about the same amount of time. We both got our holds at the comic shop around the same time, and we read a lot of similar stuff. He's been a big asset because of how much news he finds before the rest of us.

Bryan: Well, Elias, the other co-writer of Pirate Club (he's been my co-writer for 10 or more years) came on board as soon as I convinced him people would read it. And he has one of the finest minds for the comics medium I've ever known. You wouldn't know it to look at him, but he could out nerd Comic Book Guy (well, at least for the Marvel Universe). And I brought my little brother in, since it pains me to admit that he's a lot funnier than I am. And then there's a couple of other people I knew who would be good an able to contribute to a pretty specific field.

Gavin: What have the local comic shops thought of the site?

Lucas: The responses we've gotten have been good. We try not to get involved our tied to any specific comic shop or persons. That's why we all have robot names. So (until now) we could be completely anonymous. And it makes the whole experience a lot more fun and liberating.

Bryan: I want to get all of them involved. When I owned my store, I had a real great synergy with all the other stores in the area and I think it would have been easier if I had a place like BigShinyRobot! where we could all advertise our events. Comics are in such a precarious position, I don't think shops can afford to have an overwhelming sense of loyalty to itself, but to the medium, otherwise the medium will evaporate and no one will have a store. Having said that, I haven't talked to any stores about it, but I can't imagine them not wanting to help us keep track of events at all the stores.

You told me before you wanted to be the Ain't It Cool News of Utah. Following in with that, will you be expanding to video games, films and television down the road?

Lucas: A lot of our content depends on what the staff wants to write about. I know Bryan hits on New DVD's each week, as well as any movie that could be in the same vein as comic news. I think we have a few writers that touch on video games, as well as LOST recaps when there are new episodes. Personally I've tried to keep up on news about the new Ghostbusters game.

Bryan: You know, from day one we haven't been specific to comics, though that's what we have the most press access to. And I'm as much or more of a cineaste than comic nerd, so I'm always into movies. Like Lucas said, I have a weekly column called "Out Today on DVD" and I just round up the DVD's that any nerd should get on any given day, but also the stuff that flies under the radar and the movie nerd stuff. Like my number one pick a few weeks ago was Orson Welles' “Don Quixote.” Not something most comic book sites would be telling you to watch.

Gavin: So what are your thoughts on the comic industry right now, both good and bad?

Lucas: Its hard to say. I think Bryan would be the best one to talk about this subject. He's written a few articles about this.

Bryan: I think coming from the perspective of both a creator and a former retailer, I have a unique look of the system and I think one of the biggest problems is the distribution method of comics. Diamond is a monopoly and it needs to be looked at. Yes, in a lot of ways Diamond makes comics ordering easier on retailers, but it's unfair to smaller publishers and other distributors. Lucas is right though, I've written a lot about this. I have a monthly (or almost monthly) column I've been writing that's called "How to Get Kids To Read Comics Again" and it's been pretty well received. Comics Reporter has run links to them a few times. But we need to expand comics into something any Tom, Arse or Harry (aged 8, 30 or 80) can pick up off a shelf and enjoy. Look at all the continuity you have to wade through (both big publishers are guilty of this) in order to read the latest issue of Spider-Man or Batman... It's absurd. Having said that, the quality of the medium, both physically and talent-wise has never been better. There really has never been a better time to be a comic nerd.

Gavin: Is there anything you think could be done to make it bigger or better?

Lucas: Print flagship titles on newsprint and start selling them everywhere again. Not just comic shops. Everyone I know got into comics at the grocery store or the gas station. And printing them on newsprint would make them cheaper and more accessible. Some comics cost as much as a gallon of gas right now. And there's rumor that all of them will be soon.

Bryan: The reason I write that column about getting kids to read comics is that we need to have a next generation of comics readers or we won't have comics. Without new readers, it's simply unsustainable. And one way to do that is to price comics for kids so they can buy 4 comics instead of a pack of Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh cards. When you're a kid, the choice is easy. You can buy a pack or two of cards for the same price as a comic that will probably go over your head anyway. I write about this a lot, so people who are interested in this should read the site.

If you had to make a top five list, what would you say are the best comics out right now?

Lucas: Right now at this very moment I would say number one is Ultimate Spider-Man. Comics don't get any better than that book has been since Immonen jumped on it. A close second would be “Old Man Logan“. Obviously it doesn't hurt the entire third issue was in Utah. Number three would be Scud: The Disposable Assassin complete collection. If you were like me and missed the issues, buy that collection. I am currently going back and re-reading Scott Pilgrim. That's another book that if you aren't reading, you will be soon. Edgar Wright is going to direct the film adaptation starring Michael Cera. And lastly would be Secret Invasion. Marvel has totally gone B-Movie with this series. I keep expecting Bruce Campbell to pop up in one of the panels.

Bryan: I think all of the Ultimate titles are really good right now. Fables is excellent. I wish I could tell people to read Batman, but Grant Morrison's run has been abysmal. I would fill the rest of the list out with Mark Millar comics, 1985, Kick-Ass, War Heroes, Fantastic Four... That guy is great. And I read Secret Invasion #5 today and it gave me repeated chills down my spine.

Gavin: For beginners, who would you recommend people check out locally as far as writing, and also artwork?

Lucas: Derek Hunter and Ryan Ottley. I mentioned Derek earlier. He does a really funny comic called Pirate Club and you'll know Ottley from Invincible. They're both great guys and extremely talented. Another local artist to check out would be Bill Galvin. He's currently drawing Archie Comics.

Bryan: Since I work on Pirate Club, is it too vain to say me, Derek and Elias? I mean, I should say Derek because he does way more than stuff with Elias and I and he's incredibly talented in his own right. And, though it pains me to say it, because I know it'll go to his head, he really is one of my favorite artists and storytellers and he's a local. Ryan Ottley is also a prince. He's both a great guy and an amazing artist. Now if I can just get him to draw something I wrote.

What can we expect from you the rest of the year?

Lucas: We're hoping to team up with the Geek Show Podcast and start hosting some events and signings. We almost got Mark Millar out here.

Bryan: Well, in line with the goal to become for Salt Lake what Ain't It Cool News is for Austin, expect to see us covering all the local nerd events and throwing some ourselves. I'm going to start working on getting some advanced screenings for the nerd community around here and we'll show people that Salt Lake is a cool destination to visit for nerd stuff. Lucas mentioned we almost got Millar here. But we'll succeed next time, I hope. And we're going to have some contests. There's a really great documentary with Alan Moore's participation about The Watchmen that we'll be giving away 5 copies to pretty soon. We're certainly expanding in all the right ways. And you can expect us to troll the Geekshow Podcast forum, shamelessly plugging ourselves and callously insulting people we like.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Lucas: Not specifically. Just keep visiting BSR. There's always something cool being posted that relates to nerd news and reviews.

Bryan: I plugged everything I wanted to in the first or second question. So, visit Big Shiny Robot! Oh, I guess, I've sort have taken up the mantle of the comics beat guy at the Huffington Post, so you can check out my stuff there. DC and Image have given me pretty cool stuff to put up there. I got to premiere the Barack Obama MAD Magazine cover, which was really cool.

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