Today we have an interview with Andrew from DarkBrain.com
, a comic studio and subscription site featuring adult comics.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background?
Hi there. My name is Andrew Zar and I created a comic studio called DarkBrain.com. Our goal is to publish adult comics with both titillating art and enthralling stories.
I have been a longtime fan of sequential art and find it one of the best forms of storytelling. But, I drifted away from mainstream comics in the 1980s as I grew out of my teens, and comics didn’t follow suit. I found more interesting work in novels, movies and even video games. When I decided to create DarkBrain, I wanted to make comics *I* would enjoy. I also had many stories in my brain for nearly two decades – in a way, they haunted me. So trotting them out to see the light of day was a true treat.
What is DarkBrain and how much content can we find there?
I started building the studio in 2009 and we opened in 2010. To date, we have produced a staggering 2,800 full color pages of material – and by the end of 2013 that will explode to 4,700 pages! Many of our titles also include music and voice-over narration in a unique interactive comic format I created. But we also offer digital download editions that work on any computer or tablet device.
What made you decide to do an adult comic site?
One of my original design goals for the site was to produce the same content with the user ability to select content level. Users could basically choose R or PG-13 or PG and see the same stories. The software I wrote for that worked great, but it turns out the idea didn’t work so well. The industry just is not ready to look at any properties without a single, all-encompassing category. You are either adult, or you are not.
But, even worse, the comic industry has no equivalent to “R-rated” movies. All mainstream comics are PG rated (even “mature” labels means slightly PG-13 – but barely). After really struggling with trying to forge an R-rated market, DarkBrain finally had to make the critical choice – either go PG or go XXX. When faced with that, I knew I would lose interest in the project if it were PG, so I went into uncensored territory.
I kept my goal the same – it would be the same stories, the same craftsmanship – but just with more explicit art. I found that once I took the shackles off, I really enjoyed this change. I learned that even I had a lot of “self-censorship” in play that got wiped off when I went for truly unrestricted.
How many artists do you have work for the site, do you mostly use freelancers or in-house staff?
DarkBrain staff is 100% freelance and I have hired over 150 artists since 2009. Our current crew has settled in with about 20 staff members. When I started the project I did a lot of recruiting. Now that we are well known, I generally pick new staff from email inquiries.
You have both free and paid content, how did you decide on the subscription model?
DarkBrain has been a wonderful learning experience. We originally started with all content free, but then a pay system to get the “uncensored” content. This worked well to draw a lot of interest; there was a time DarkBrain was pulling over a million hits a day. But I learned it was challenging to convert interest to sales.
So we have changed our model. The new model is more in line with how other independent comic studios work: we offer the first issue free -- then it is paid after that. This allows people to really try us out and see what they think before committing.
For how to pay, we offer per-issue sales that are usually $1.99 per 50 page issue – but our more popular offering is our all-inclusive membership. It allows complete access to our nearly 3,000 pages of material for only $45 as well as a full year of new content monthly. I also believe that the membership offers more quality exposure to our comics since members can read them all.
Can you tell us a bit of what goes on behind the scenes, the software and servers you use?
I built the entire site code that runs DarkBrain in ASP.NET and XML due to my extensive experience with that in my “real life.” For content creation I use Adobe Photoshop for image manipulation and Adobe Illustrator for lettering. For new startups, my advice is to try Manga Studio as it is considerably cheaper than Adobe and I had committed to Adobe mostly because I use Adobe Flash and Adobe SoundBooth for the animated comics.
What has the feedback been so far, and how successful do you consider DarkBrain to be?
We have had many great reviews, tons of comments posted, lots of emails – a considerable amount of feedback that runs the range of “amazing” to “oh my god, too much sex you pervert!” Even the negative feedback I have relished – because that offers the ability to learn something.
Success can be measured many ways. DarkBrain has succeeded in bringing all my dark dreams, nightmares, fantasies and more into the light. The Mirror/Mirror storyline is one that had written itself into my brain and when that story was done, I have never felt as satisfied. I had similar experiences with all the stories – Grace Comes Home was written with my wife in mind, her strength and resilience – and it was a true pleasure to have her participate as Grace’s actual voice and to see the joy on her face to have been part of the artistic experience was beyond measure for me.
Financial success is a different sort of thing, and what most people would value a business on. That measure is really told only by one truth: as long as DarkBrain keeps producing comics, it is successful. This is my only true financial goal: to create a self-sustaining comic site that lasts forever. And that is a goal I work on every year.
For new startups, I will offer an important bit of advice: the only good reason to produce a comic is because you MUST do it. It is not an easy career, and it is not my career (I’m a computer techie). But, on the other hand, if you have that relentless story in your psyche, the one that must be told, then by all means: TELL IT!
Can you give any tips for people who may wish to start their own subscription site?
Subscription sites require a lot of content. So any new site needs to map out their content plan for several years and have a reliable production process. DarkBrain in early 2013 has artists working on mid 2014 content already – actually drawing the books – that is how far ahead I need to be. Because, if you run a subscription site and run up on a deadline, it is a truly dreadful experience that can ruin everything you have built. So plan ahead, get your funding organized, and be ready to make it work – no matter how hard.
But, I want to point out that new studios can start a lot smaller. Instead of a subscription model, I’d suggest a per-issue model using a partner like DriveThruComics. (If you make censored PG-level content, you can also try Comixology). And then you can create your own site and link off for each issue. It is a much lower barrier of entry and I highly recommend it. Then, as you grow, you can consider adding a subscription service later on when you have enough content.
What can we expect in the future for DarkBrain and some of the upcoming comics?
In 2013 DarkBrain finishes up some comic series such as Locked Out, God Play and Columbia’s Underbelly. Then we start some exciting new titles including Mirror/Mirror REBIRTH, an edgy horror story that brings back our popular haunted dominatrix Brenna and Envoy 82, a sexy sci-fi drama that tracks a human crew sent to negotiate with an alien race to avoid a catastrophic war. And be sure to grab the first issue of Envoy 82, which will be FREE!