Had David Lloyd given the world – and the postmillennial anti-capitalism movement – nothing other than the iconic look for Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, his place would still be assured in comics history.
As it is, he’s had a career spanning almost four decades, often at the forefront of British comics, and with his current project Aces Weekly he also has a place in the vanguard of the digital comics revolution. Aces Weekly is a digital-only comics anthology that launched three years ago by Lloyd and Bambos Georgiou, a true comics renaissance man who has worked over the past quarter-century as a publisher, editor, writer, artist and journalist on publications and properties ranging from 2000 AD to Thundercats to Sid the Snake.
You buy it by the volume, each one comprising seven weeks’ worth of strips, broken down into three page episodes. It harkens back to the classic British weekly anthology comics of yore, of which really only 2000 AD survives. And those old enough to remember Marvel UK’s Titans reprint title of the ’70s will appreciate the wide-screen format of Aces Weekly, designed for laptop or PC screens, or tablets held sideways, or even your smart TV.
An International Flavour
The scope of Aces Weekly is vast, with a strong international contingent. In any given volume you might find Lew Stringer’s Viz-esque Combat Colin rubbing shoulders with Herb Trimpe’s WWII strip Firehawks, or the insane genius of Santa Claus Versus The Nazis alongside the Ghibli-ish The Cat Who Came To Call. “Eclectic” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
“I’m very excited by the truly international flavour of Aces Weekly,” says Georgiou. “We have contributors from the UK, USA, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Brazil, the Philippines, New Zealand, Ukraine, Indonesia and China. Fully half our readership also comes from abroad, thanks to David’s constant globetrotting.”
It was Lloyd’s globetrotting that birthed the original idea for Aces Weekly in the first place, thanks to an encounter at the San Diego Comic-Con with Pepe Moreno, the Spanish comic creator and video game developer perhaps best known to British and American audiences for his work on Heavy Metal and Epic Illustrated in the ’80s.
Lloyd says: “I was stimulated to the possibility of an exclusively onscreen anthology by an encounter with Pepe Moreno in San Diego, who was doing comics online then via his own set-up after frustration at losing out on a print book because its repro and other costs had left him with nothing for his creative efforts.
“I initially thought of putting my bunch on his or another similar platform but was persuaded to establish our own brand and site by my co-founder and initial managing editor, Bambos Georgiou. It was a good decision but turned out to be harder work!”
So why is Lloyd, a veteran of print comics going back to his work for Marvel UK in 1979, now such a digital evangelist?
“Printing and regular distribution of comics is an expensive, time-wasting and unnecessary way of telling stories in sequential art when cyberspace gives us a wider and easier alternative,” he says. “We’re just swapping one surface for another after all to show them on, and they look brilliant on it. Ease of production was what informed the final decision, but creator control and the benefits of direct connection to buyers were major drivers for motivation as well.”
"No long lead time, no restricted page count, and no printing problems – pages look bright and sparkling, with colours just like the artist wanted."
Creator ownership of all the Aces Weekly strips is a major concern for Lloyd, and a draw for the big names he brings to the product – artists lined up for future volumes include Steve Bissette, Dylan Teague, Hunt Emerson, and Colleen Doran. Lloyd says he’s cutting out the middle-man and getting the comics direct from the creators to the readership with a minimum of fuss, which means a better deal for artists and writers.
The way Lloyd enthuses about the Aces Weekly ethos – he calls contributors his “Aces” – gives it a feel of a collective built on principles of fairness and equity. Everyone gets a share of the income from each volume, meaning it’s in the best interests of the creators to promote their work and the product as much as they can themselves.
Don’t get too hung up on the word “digital”, though – that doesn’t mean that the way comics are actually made has to change.
“Digital is only important as a means of delivery to us – nothing else. We changed our advertising from using ‘exclusively digital’ to ‘exclusively onscreen’ when I started getting questions like: ‘What’s it like doing digital art now?’ and some confusion on whether digital meant we were technically specific in other ways.”
So while many artists do actually produce their strips digitally, others do it the old-fashioned way, too, with pencil and ink on paper. Lloyd says: “The art on Aces Weekly can be digitally produced – and some of our Aces do produce it that way – but it can be done traditionally too. We just have to scan it to the right res and other specs – no complication is involved.”
All of which, he says, makes it a far more attractive proposition for publisher, creators and readers compared to producing a printed product. He checks off the advantages: “No long lead time for publication; no restricted pagecount, so we can provide as many Extras as our Aces want to give us; and we never have any printing problems on our pages – they look sparkling and bright onscreen, with the colours looking just the way the artist wanted them to be.”
"Collecting has always been part of the motivation, which is why there’s resistance to digital from many."
There’s no doubt that the popularity of digital comics is on the rise, especially through platforms such as Comixology, through which all the major publishers sell their wares. It’s the ease of obtaining comics that makes digital a big draw for a lot of people – no more having to make the journey to the comic store or waiting for the mail order package to arrive. Comics can be delivered wirelessly at the touch of a button on the day of release.
“We’re on Comixology now and we’ve been on there a while,” says Lloyd. “We’ve got several of our over-200-page volumes on sale there, and we’ve been adding them on a monthly basis.”
However, although Comixology is “a useful extra sales point,” Lloyd prefers to sell direct from the website. He says: “I don’t like losing the 50 per cent they charge for our place there. They mostly sell previously-in-print comics from the Big Two, not digital-only, so, though they’re successful, they can’t be held up as proof of the economic success of digital comics. We prefer always to sell via our website, where only a small fraction of our price goes to maintaining our platform with the rest going to our Aces.”
Collector Gene Therapy
Comic fans, though, are a notoriously acquisitive lot – they have the collector gene. Who doesn’t have a couple (or couple of dozen!) long-boxes of comics, all carefully stored in protective sleeves and filed alphabetically or chronologically or according to publisher, character or creator? Is the ease of digital breaking the stranglehold of actual possession of hard-copy comics?
“The jury’s out,” admits Lloyd. “Young comic readers of the usual industry product and the book-style works of recent years like the ‘thing’ as much as older ones, though this may change in time. But the collecting element has always been part of comic readership motivation, which is why there’s tenacious resistance to digital from many in this particular area of online entertainment.”
Readers are happy to buy books and magazines digitally, though. Lloyd says: “The attitude to comics is different to the attitude shown by readers of books, magazines and newspapers in digital form, where ‘collecting’ is not traditionally a key element of the enjoyment.
“The other thing to bear in mind in the understanding of the younger reader’s viewpoint on digital comics is that many are used to comics on the net being free – either as backlog manga that publishers can’t sell in print any more and are happy to shove on the web, or through the plethora of free webcomix that people just do for fun or to get ‘seen’ – so digital is difficult to sell to on that basis.”
That said, if David Lloyd and his team have embraced the obvious benefits of digital from a publisher’s point of view – no printing costs, no warehousing, no transporting comics to all corners of the globe – isn’t it just a matter of time before the big publishers do the same?
Lloyd says, “I have a feeling they’d like to, here in the developed Western world. They know that almost all their customers have tablets, laptops, desktops and smart TVs – where you can make comics big! They wouldn’t lose out.
“If you’re producing the amount of product that Marvel and DC do, it’s madness not to use the best and cheapest means of reproduction and delivery ever invented. Those companies have long-lasting contracts with their suppliers and distributors, and it might prove difficult for them to do in that light. It would certainly be a gamechanger in terms of the readers’ perceptions of the importance of the value of the ‘thing’.”
Spreading the Word
While Lloyd waits for the rest of the world to catch up with his vision, he does what any pioneer has to – puts in the hours, and evangelises about Aces Weekly anywhere and everywhere he can.
You’ll catch him at most major cons, though sometimes they can be a hard sell given that he might be sitting at a table with no piles of product to entice people with. He does, though, do a nice line in art cards drawn by Shaky Kane, which you can buy your access codes on,
so at least you have something to walk away with.
Evangelical he might be, but David Lloyd is also a realist about the impact of digital on the comics market. When asked if Aces Weekly has taken off as well as he hoped it would three years ago, he’s brutally honest: “No, it’s taken too long to make an impression on the blocking wall of comics readers’ addiction to paper, as if comics had to be on paper to be comics, which is as absurd as suggesting that a painting had to be on the wall of a cave before someone figured it could be on something else…”
But he remains doggedly committed to Aces Weekly and those who have bought into his vision. If he could go back in time, would he do it all again?
“Sure,” he says. He thinks about it for a bit, then adds: “There isn’t one pioneering enterprise in history that hasn’t had it tough to begin with, but it’s worth it because we’re working for a better situation for all comic creators and for those we serve to entertain.”
This article first appeared in Comic Heroes, the world's best magazine for all your comic book needs. From Marvel and DC to indies and graphic novel classics, pick up the latest issue and back issues here, from MyFavouriteMagazines.co.uk, and follow the mag on Facebook.