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Last week, TinyCo launched a new game for iOS and Android devices called Avengers Academy. It's not, in fact, a fighting game of any sort (which has evidently annoyed some users) but what I call a resource management type of game. As a player, you direct the characters to use their (and your!) time to improve their skills and/or advance the plot. As is typical with these types of games, there can be a fair amount of tedium while you wait for tasks to be finished, but they can be sped up with tokens that can be won in the game... or by purchasing them in larger quantities. This is, of course, how these games generate money -- they're designed in a way that can be completed for free, but only at a snail's pace, so that user's drop real-world money in order to get to the next part of the game.

The game has some wonderful animations and smooth play that do make it worth watching. But they've also done two things that I think are critical here: 1) they've crafted a legitimate and new story for the game, and 2) they've redesigned the Marvel universe from the ground up.

The importance of that first point should be fairly obvious. A new and well-crafted story is going to keep players engaged, and more likely to be interested in continuing on to the next level. There's enough hints and promises of things to come to keep a player intrigued, but not in such a way as to over-sell what's actually in store. It's not about just getting enough maguffins to unlock the Thor character; there's a broader story about defeating Hydra and discovering the secret of the mysterious "timefog." So as a user, there's an ongoing series of engagements that keep players interested and coming back again and again.

While it's obvious that the characters and backgrounds have been radically redesigned, the significance of that may not be as easily grasped. The primary conceit of the game is that nearly all the heroes you're familiar with are all in the late teens and going to "Avengers Academy" for training. This does a few things within the context of the game and the players. First, it establishes all the characters as more-or-less equal We don't have decades of history and context to need to figure out this Captain America." Every character here starts on a level playing field.

Second, the complete redesign gives the creators a greater license to focus on a more diverse cast. The gender make-up is about half men and half women, and among them are included Falcon, War Machine, the current Ms. Marvel, and the whole group is run by Nick Fury Jr. Long-time Avengers fans who are expecting to see more traditional versions of what has historically been a predominantly white male group aren't seeing ANY characters they recognize, so there's less concern about why their favorite isn't represented. "They didn't even use the real Iron Man or Captain America anyway, so why would I even bother bitching about not seeing Stingray?"

Further, the redesigns give Marvel essentially another set of characters to promote. People who aren't perhaps partial to the darker, fight-heavy scenes and portrayals in the movies and comics, might appreciate the still-adult-but-somewhat-softer approach in Avengers Academy. There seems to be a fairly heavy (for this type of game) marketing push to make this a successful game; it will be interesting to see if/when/how Marvel might capitalize on that in their comics. Despite having some comics at the time, they largely missed the boat there with Super Hero Squad, seemingly unable to get the books to the audience that was watching the show. Let's see if the different audience for Avengers Academy makes it any easier for them.
Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: On Business: Customizing

Kleefeld on Comics: On History: Safety Card Art

FreakSugar: Webcomics Wednesday: Passion

Kleefeld on Comics: Weekly Comics Links

Kleefeld on Comics: On -isms: Why BHM Comic Deals Are Worth Sharing

Look, you've already heard the hoopla about the Black Kickstarter, right? By the time you've read this, you've either already pledged or are trying to figure out how to save a few bucks elsewhere so that you can. That it was timed to start on February 1 -- the beginning of Black History Month -- was no accident, obviously but it's almost-assured success (as I write this, it's already only about $1500 away from its goal and it's still just a few days in) speaks to the creative team's caliber and the huge, mostly untapped desire for this type of material.

But what if you simply can't afford to help, but still want to support comic diversity?

Well, here are two books available for free on comiXology right now that might help...
  1. The first volume of Concrete Park
    I wrote about great this was last year. This is seriously a fantastic book on its own basic storytelling merits, but when you add the racial subtext, it just adds to the experience. Do yourself a favor and pick this up -- the whole first volume is FREE on comiXology throughout the month of February.
  2. Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man #1
    Also for free on comiXology -- but I don't know for how long -- is this Mile Morales story. If you've heard snippets about this Black/Latino Spider-Man but haven't actually read anything about him, this would be a great opportunity to find out.
Now, how does this help, you might ask, since you're not actually sending money to the creators here?

While getting these books for free might not send creators extra cash, it DOES notify everyone involved of the desire for more of this type of content. It tells comiXology, of course, but it also alerts Marvel and Dark Horse to the interest level. Previous sales can gauge/be attributed to the interest of customers already pre-disposed to the characters or creators. What if there are more people who would be interested in these books, but simply had not heard of them because of insufficient marketing or other books that came out around the same time or whatever. By providing digital copies for free (which doesn't cost the publishers anything, really) they can see if there's interest for more of this type of material beyond the people who've already purchased them.

There's a more immediate sales component, as well, of course. People who liked those can come back to purchase subsequent volumes, and that's probably more what the publishers are thinking about. But the interest sparked by the downloads can also point to latent interest.

Cynically speaking, it is a bit of a gimmick, playing off Black History Month. But realistically, we're living in a culture that generally suppresses or ignores Black voices, both fictional and in real life, so taking advantage of the greater attention afforded Black people during February makes sense. And the more of these stories you read during February, the more likely you'll be to pick up similar items in other months as well. The more you can start to question why you don't see more of this throughout the year. The more you can bring these questions up with others.

Let the creators and publishers know now that you're supporting more diversity in comics. And keep them in mind one, two, three, four... months from now as well. Maybe you can't afford to contribute to Black right now. But thinking about it now might allow you to contribute to the next project of one of these great creators!
This is a pretty typical safety card for commercial airplanes. It's current. Yet look at the art for the NO CELL PHONES, NO RADIOS, NO TVS section. When was the last time you've seen objects that look like that before. Ten years ago, they would've seen dated. I don't think I've see a TV like that in 25 years. I don't poo t this out as a complaint per we but it does remind me that, as comic artists, you need to keep up with technology just so it doesn't look like you're drawing historical works instead of contemporary ones.
So the frequently-surprising Boulet recently launched Le Bouletmaton, a "générateur d'avatars de qualité supérieure." If you're not up to snuff on your French, it's basically an avatar maker where the user can click through several options for each facial feature to create an illustration that bears some resemblance to them. (Or someone else.) What's unique about this one is that it's all done in Boulet's inimitable style. I found it to be impressively well-done, and is easy to figure out even if you don't know a lick of French. (Which I don't.)

So here's my thought. What if a company were do one of these, but for a full figure? And then, instead of spitting back an avatar that looked like it belonged on The Simpsons or The Peanuts Movie or something, what if it showed your creation in a comic as one of the characters? Maybe the main character? I talked about the basic idea of dropping someone's textual information into a story template to make a custom story a few years ago but you could go further and set up some layered art files, so that a custom figure could be dropped in as well. It would, of course, require a good amount of drawing to set up, doing different figure types and such. And you'd probably need to do several poses for each as well.

But think about the result: a complete comic story with YOU not only mentioned but actually participating in the story itself! I bet there'd be more than a few people interested in purchasing something like that!

You could have someone do all the customizing online, like Boulet's piece there, and then spit back maybe two or three sample pages on the screen. Then give them an option to buy the whole story, or a couple different stories. Maybe a 32-page book for $10 or $12, and a 64-page book for $20? (I'm just brainstorming here; I don't know exactly how the pricing would break down.)

I think that's a totally do-able idea for someone with a little seed money, and the ability to pull together some writers, artists, and programmers. Somebody make this happen!
Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: On Business: Bringing the Audience in Deeper

FreakSugar: Fanthropology: Bootleg Fandom

Kleefeld on Comics: On History: Gorilla Suit Day Origins?

Kleefeld on Comics: Weekly Comics Links

FreakSugar: Webcomics Wednesday: Taking Advantage of Formatting

Kleefeld on Comics: On -isms: Dash Review

Kleefeld on Comics: On Strips: Skippy