One To Watch: David O'Connell

By | Tuesday, October 23, 2007 Leave a Comment
Back in June, I noted my discovery of David O'Connell's Tozo. Well, David's been cruising along on the story, posting a new installment every week, and it's gotten better the more involved with the story I get. So, naturally, I was thrilled when he actually published a first issue collecting the strips he has planned through mid-November. I promptly ordered the book, which arrived yesterday.

As I've been reading the strip online, I was already familiar with much of the story. In fact, the printed comic only has two pages of story that aren't already online. But the printed version does two things that, I think, help the overall story. First, and most obvious, is that it does a better job of showcasing David's linework. There's a lot of nuanced detail that doesn't carry through online very well, by virtue of screen resolution limitations. The artwork really is stunning, and I really enjoyed going through the book a second time just to study the art. Secondly, the story holds together more cohesively since, in the printed format, the reader is presented with a larger portion of the story at a glance. The online format truncates what a reader can see by about 1/6 and breaks up the flow of the overall narrative. This is something of an inherent problem (in my mind) with web comics, and precisely why I prefer reading many of them in printed form.

But there are a lot of talented people out there making good stories. That David is one of them certainly works in his favor, but that's not the only reason why I think he's going to become pretty successful with Tozo. What David also has that I feel a lot of folks lack is a distinct marketing savvy. I'm not sure if he's been trained formally, or if it's more intuitive but he's making some excellent decisions with regard to promoting Tozo. (I get the impression that it's largely intuitive, but that's just a guess.)

The published comic itself, as I said, only contains two pages of story that aren't online. I think the timing works decidedly in David's favor since it allows fans (like myself) to see the full story -- or at least the entirety of Chapter 1 -- before most people, but I won't have to wait for inordinate amount of time before he'll start Chapter 2 online.

But the comic also contains a number of extras, not found anywhere online. It includes a map of Tozo's homeland, including callouts for locations mentioned within the story. The book also includes several pages of a fictional newspaper highlighting life in David's world that goes beyond the story itself; there're sections on fashion and sports and weather and science... And while this certainly provides an additional nice-to-have for readers/fans, it also makes clear that David has put a LOT of thought into the world he's creating. He's not throwing stuff together on a whim -- like, say, Stan Lee did -- but he's put thought into how his world works. And what this does is provide a solid framework as his story moves forward. Even if he doesn't utilize much of what he's got in his head, the details he can drop in provide a unique color to his story that will, I think, help draw readers in.

Here's the other bit that I think speaks to David's marketing technique. He included with my comic a sketch of his lead character with a quick note of thanks. But more than that, he drew Tozo with a Mr. Fantatsic style neck and put him in a uniform that's sort of a Nova Venezia/Fantastic Four hybrid. Which means that at some point, he looked me up and saw that I was a long-time FF fan. Not that the piece of knowledge is particularly difficult to find, but it shows a presence of mind that he's interested in people's enjoyment of his world, and not just a crass commercialization of it. He's actually got a decided interest in both his world, and the people like me who come to visit.

He's also got some good marketing ideas showing up on his web site. It's a clean site, in the first place, which says a lot; readers get to the main content they're interested in (the comic) right away. But he's also got a reasonable amount of background information on both the world he's creating as well as how he's creating it. Although it's a little limited in scope just now, David notes that a TozoWiki will be coming online in early November, roughly coinciding with the end of Chapter 1 of the online serializtion. In the meantime, though, he still has a "Make Your Own Klikker" available to keep folks entertained. (A "klikker" is a small robot in the comic -- something of a cross between a PDA, a PA and a dog.)

I liked the story and artwork in Tozo pretty much from the start. But David's also doing a great job of winning me over as not only a Tozo fan, but as a Tozo advocate! And while that might take a little while longer as a way to develop a following, taking time out for individuals like me, it's also going prove, I think, more beneficial to him in the long run since people are going to be less likely to lose interest over time due to an increased emotional connection.

Now, is David sitting there consciously looking for ways to exploit people for the sake of promoting his comic? I doubt it. I think there would be other things he'd be doing as well if it were really just part of some grand marketing ploy. I get the sense that David is genuinely pleased that people are reading and connecting with his work, and is just showing his appreciation in whatever ways he can. But it's that sincerity on top of some high quality work that I at least am responding to, and I think that will help propel David up through the ranks of comic book pros.

Talent will take you so far. Being able to get people to support your talent, THAT is decidedly trickier and often makes the difference between making and breaking a career.
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