Who among us hasn’t wished we could smack some jerk on the Internet? It may be one of the most universal impulses of the twenty-first century, especially since the rise of cyberbullying, harassment campaigns, elections, and all the other reasons we can’t have nice things. But universal as this desire to see trolls of all stripes get their comeuppance may be, it has been oddly unrepresented in comics, despite their status as perhaps the archetypal medium for wish-fulfillment.
Veteran writer Fabian Nicieza and artist Reilly Brown have teamed with digital comics publisher Webtoon to bring you ‘Outrage’. Described variously as a superhero and a virus, the eponymous figure is “a sentient electronic entity that appears through the personal devices of bullies and babies alike.” Combining social commentary with an at times Deadpool-esque sense of humor, ‘Outrage’ is a uniquely cathartic work
At the recent Keystone Comic Con, we had the opportunity to sit down with both Nicieza and Brown. In the course of the conversation, we discussed the genesis of ‘Outrage’, the real-world inspirations for the strip, and the advantages of telling a story like this in a digital format.
ScienceFiction: Why don’t we start by talking about how ‘Outrage’ came about? What’s the genesis of the strip?
Fabian Nicieza (FN): I had the idea – a few years ago, actually – and I’ve said I’m not an idea guy by nature, I’m more of a nuts and bolts guy. I wish I could be like a Dan Slott or Scott Lobdell who can come out with a million ideas. But it was the obvious, most simple thing. At one point I said, “Man, I wish I could reach through the Internet and smack that idiot for what they said on Twitter.” And then I said, “What if you could reach through the Internet and smack that idiot? That would be so cool!” And ‘Outrage’ was the name right then and there because that was the ongoing phrase. And then I told Reilly the idea and he said, “That’s a really good idea, let’s do it.” And like three years later, we’re doing it! [laughs]
Reilly Brown (RB): You told me, and I was like, “That’s a great idea. Man, whatever artist works on that is a genius.” And then I was like “Wait, I think he was telling me I should work on it!” [laughs]
FN: I was. I let the lightbulb go on at its own rate.
RB: And then one day we were having lunch – because we were working on a Deadpool comic at the time, and we were just going over that or something – and we started talking about ‘Outrage’, and I was like, “No no, it’s got to look like this.” And I started drawing something and you said “Wait. Once you start drawing it, that means you’re attached to the project.” And I said “Fine. Let’s do it.”
FN: And we actually wanted to do it before Webtoon even approached us. Because Webtoon approached each of us within a half hour of each other, I think, at New York Comic Con. Like they were making the rounds and we were only an aisle or two apart. And you said this could be perfect for ‘Outrage’. And it was. It made a lot of sense. The Digital platform was a really smart platform for this particular character, you know?
SF: How much did that actually factor into it? The fact that you’re doing a digital comic about some who -as you put it – reaches through the computer to slap people?
FN: I think that the context of the character isn’t necessarily influenced or affected by the fact that it’s on a digital platform. Because that’s really a formatting, a nuts and bolts sort of thing, with the vertical scroll and how to arrange your panels smartly, how to create flow between panels. And that’s ninety-nine percent on Reilly to do all that. I like that we can have automatic engagement when a chapter posts, that people can automatically comment on it and we can respond to them. I like that part of it.
RB: With all the anger and vitriol that they just deserve. [laughs]
FN: Yeah. You don’t have to wait like in the old days for a letter to arrive. I don’t know if you kids at home know what a letter is? [laughs] Anyway, you don’t have to wait a week for a letter to arrive to comment on an issue you wrote. Or you don’t have to go to Twitter or Facebook to hear someone else’s comments about the book. You can get it immediately right there when the chapter ends. And I really like that, mostly because the commentary’s been really positive! [laughs]
RB: If they were mad at us it might not be so…
FN: By ‘Chapter Eight’ they’re gonna hate me! They’re always gonna love Reilly, but they’re gonna start to hate me real soon!
RB: I think that the comic would work just fine in any format, but I think thematically the fact that it’s a digital comic really kind of helps it all gel together.
SF: It is kind of perfect.
FN & RB: Yeah.
FN: I’m actually more curious about it, not from our standpoint creating it. I’m curious about it from the audience’s standpoint. Because if they’re reading on their phone or reading on their laptop, and they’re watching a story where a character is coming out of that, that creates a real visceral connection I think, that an audience member might feel. And a couple people have already posted “I’m glad that harasser got what’s coming to them. I’ve been harassed too.” And people have been. Everywhere. Everyone’s had to deal with this kind of crap online, you know?
RB: The text conversations actually – because you’re scrolling – it actually looks like a text conversation, as if it’s on your phone. And that’s kind of cool, that’s not something you can do in print.
SF: You alluded to this a bit already, but there’s a clear element of wish fulfillment to the strip.
FN: Yeah, I guess. But from the very beginning, when we talked about it, it quickly becomes less of that Outrage can do it, and it starts to become more of why is it necessary. Why do we have Outrage? Thematically, overall, in general. Why are people acting this way online and talking to each other this way online? Ninety-nine percent of the time, saying things that they would never say to someone face-to-face in conversation, right? So the second half of the story starts to explore a little more about both. When the revelation of who Outrage is comes out in the middle of the series’ run, that starts to flow into not only “Why is the character doing this?” but “Why are other people acting this way?”
SF: You can see a little of that shift just in the first three chapters. the way it kind of segues from online bullying in that more general sense to – by the end of ‘Chapter Two’ – taking on a bit of a political tenor? Are you going to continue along those lines?
FN: Yes. Back and forth. I know that we’re going to automatically inspire the outrage of anyone who thinks you’re attacking them personally. Whether it be for political views or religious views or their belief that they should be allowed to be sexual harassers online. That’s just their opinion, we’ve already had a few people comment about that. I understand that we are going to get that because everyone gets individually outraged about whatever it is that bothers them personally. Or more often than not, whatever it is that is indicative of what they do, right? But I’m telling those people, and I’m telling the audience, that Outrage is an equal opportunity hater. Outrage hates everyone equally, whether it’s left wing, right wing, religious, atheist, male, female… It doesn’t really matter, because I believe in the cesspool of our society we are all open to that kind of vitriol. We all deserve it to one extent or another because we’re all part of the problem. And very few of us are part of the solution. Including, I might add, myself.
RB: We’re just making more people mad at us. But hey, we’ll play that game.
FN: We’ll play that game, yeah.
RB: But also, people are going to think “Well, they’re just attacking me or my point of view.” Give us chance. If there’s something that makes you mad, we’ll get around to it eventually.
FN: If you think we’re attacking you right now, it’s okay. We are. Next chapter we’ll be attacking someone else, so you’ll feel the pressure’s off.
RB: Everyone at some point, hopefully, will be like “Yes! I’ve been waiting for someone to smack these guys around!” or something like that.
FN: And look, I lean left. And Reilly is a moderating influence on me. It would be too easy for me to draw the references that I focus on and use those. But Reilly always says “Take a look at this one.” And you’ve gotta find the opportunities to be an equal opportunity offender.
SF: Talking more in terms of craft, you’ve both done your share of work in print comics through the years. Do you find that working in digital has affected your approach on that level?
RB: I’ve worked on a lot of digital comics over the years. Actually, I really enjoy any time I get to work in a new format for a comic because I get to play with new storytelling opportunities and that’s a lot of fun. So this is just another challenge and another game to play, so I’m enjoying it. But I still draw everything on paper. So to some extent, it’s really the same. It’s just about how I lay out the panels so it works in a vertical scroll as opposed to flipping a page.
FN: And different from a horizontal scroll. Reilly’s done a lot of digital work, and he and I have done a project together for Marvel that was a horizontal scroll. It’s very different, the vertical scroll and horizontal scroll. For me, from a craft standpoint, I feel I’m okay with the flow of the vertical paneling. I had to adjust how I was approaching the chapter breaks. Because thirty to thirty-five panels are roughly equivalent to five or six pages of work. So the normal comic book story, let’s say, is twenty pages in print. You’re not looking at cliffhangers every six pages. So you kind of have to have a page set up and a page cliffhanger, which leaves you less room in the middle to advance your story or develop your characters. And I figure I’m getting there by season three of ‘Outrage’. [laughs]
RB: It takes some getting used to. It’s kind of paced differently and what types of panels work in the vertical format are different. But I think we’re getting the hang of it.
FN: I’ve been doing this so long – About seven hundred and fifty-three years, kids! – that I enjoy the opportunity to be challenged or to do something new. So I love digital comics because Reilly’s schooling me on all the opportunities to create simulated animation in a real interesting way with our [vertical] scroll. This is another new challenge. Not only to understand the vertical flow but to understand the strengths of the chapter breaks. And it’s fun to have to hit your head against the wall, and it’s fun to have to question whether you’re getting there if you’re right, is it working for the audience… And the reaction’s been so positive, which is really good because it makes you feel like you’re starting off on the right foot. We’re not starting ten yards behind already, we got our good jump, you know? So it makes me feel like the marathon of doing twenty-six chapters and having them come out once a week… That carrot is easier to chase when you feel like the audience is enjoying the work.
SF: In terms of the layouts, I found the vertical scroll really interesting and very different from what I’m used to. Very well suited to digital. But you mentioned that you were drawing everything on paper still. So when you’re working it out, are you thinking at all in terms of how it might translate to a print collection somewhere down the line or is that not a factor at all?
RB: I mean, it fits on my page, I figure we could more or less use the same pages. Although lettering… There’s no way all of that dialog… Like some of the panels that are pretty small on the drawn page have a lot of dialogue, so if we were to do a print version I don’t know how we’d tackle all that.
SF: That was the thing that stood out to me, how the dialog kind of bridges the panels.
FN: Well part of that is because I write too effing much! [laughs] Let’s be honest here, folks! That’s Reilly’s nice way of saying “He writes too effin’ much!” There’s no choice but to put it between the panels! But we made a conscious decision to use both the art and the verbal to lead you through the process. To me, whether the piece of artwork is taking you to the next screen or whether it’s a dialog balloon and a tail taking you to the next screen, it’s all in service of the same purpose, you know? Which is to keep the audience engaged and moving the story along. Because in some ways, we control that and we have the responsibility to that in a way that we wouldn’t in a regular print comic.
RB: There’s an interesting interaction that happens with the reader and just how fast they’re scrolling from one panel to another. I love when two panels are really far apart, and you scroll and then there’s nothing for a while before something shows up. There’s a lot of cool… It’s not narrative, but there’s some kind of emotional connection in storytelling like that.
FN: Reilly keeps telling me about a pause between panels, a stretch, and I keep…
RB: Right! There’s supposed to be nothing here and he’s like, “Here’s twenty pages of dialog!”
FN: I just throw balloons in there! Any time I get his vertical scroll and there’s space I go, “Ooh! I get to write stuff!” [laughs]
RB: [laughs] “All that space you left me to write!” And I’m putting the image files together like “Let’s move these dialogs down…”
FN: I mean, Marvel used to pay by the word. [laughs] They don’t now. That’s why you see so many less words in comics.
RB: That’s true, yeah!
FN: Back when I broke in, they paid by the word, so it was important to get as many words on a page as you possibly could. But yeah, in the eighties, I had an editor when I first broke in tell me, “Don’t forget to put the “book” in “comic book.“” No editor today would ever say that to a writer!
RB: I do think some of the comics that people do are too brief in terms of how much text is in there. It kind of gives you something to do, you know? It makes the experience of enjoying the comic last longer. I don’t know. I don’t mind that your stuff has a lot of words.
FN: Liar! You lied!
RB: I do! I like it! As long as it’s entertaining.
FN: That’s the key. I can’t be responsible for that part of it! [laughs] I just feel like ‘Outrage’ is a concept that is about our dialog, so there has to be a dialog in order to examine our dialog, collectively. Plus, we’re introducing a lot of characters in the first few chapters. There’s going to be a lot of dialog in order to try and establish personality a little bit, and interaction and repartee between people.
SF: And finally, do you guys have any other projects coming up?
FN: I don’t.
RB: I’m also doing covers for the ‘Red Sonia’ comic at Dynamite and I’ve got another webcomic called ‘Dash Hudson’ that is on Ghostek. It’s just a weekly webcomic that I do, and it’s about super spies behaving badly.