ACT-I-VATE is making dynamic webcomics

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T.J. Kosinski, one of our talented interns this summer here at The Times, wandered around Comic-Con International a few weeks ago and interviewed some of his favorite comics creators. Here is his third guest post.

Like the undergound comix scene in those roiling days of the 1960s, the burgeoning online comics sector is a wide-open frontier now making up its own rules and picking its leading voices. I’d say one of the strongest players at the moment is Act-I-Vate, the webcomics collective with about 30 creators on its roster. It’s both smart showcase and wild laboratory, providing consistently updated (and thoroughly interesting) comics to readers across the Web for free.


Two of the member creators are Joe Infurnari and Molly Crabapple. Infurnari is a writer and artist who values the benefits of creating comics strictly for the Web: “Going digital is great to get yourself to a wide audience. If I write something, [someone] can place a link to it on MySpace and it gets 60,000 hits. That sort of exposure can’t be done by handing out postcards or just talking to people.”

Infurnari is working on his latest webcomic, ‘The Transmigration of ULTRA-Lad!’ It’s a reverse-Shazam sort of story in which an old man transforms into a teenage superhero. The aesthetic of the webcomic is great. The story is told on ‘pages’ that have the browning, battered edges of a vintage comic book (one that was not stored in a Mylar bag) and the art is a shadowy valentine to super-hero artists such as Mac Raboy and Wally Wood. Infurnari also has The Process, which had been nominated for an Eisner Award.
One interesting dimension of Infurnari’s The Process is how tailored it feels to the Web. The website that hosts the comic is meticulous; even the table of contents is intricate. Infurnari took this approach seeking “an interactive experience.” He explained that “with the Web, I can control how the audience absorbs material. The whole thing is an immersive design. My goal is to teleport the viewer into the world of the story.”

Readers should check out The Process, not only for the tremendously detailed artwork, but for Infurnari’s surreal narrative. It’s self-described as “a journey and exploration through a personal ‘pleroma,’ an imaginary landscape populated by strange, wondrous creatures and archetypal characters.’ The Eisner nomination for Best Digital Comic speaks to the ability of Infurnari to relay his strange inner visions to a wide audience.

Another member of the ACT-I-VATE circle is Crabapple, whom writer Warren Ellis refers to as “a major new illustrator.”

Her work has appeared in Marvel Comics, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Playgirl.

“I’m friends with everyone who works in [ACT-I-VATE]. But more seriously, I had kicked around the idea of creating my own comic with my friend and writer John Leavitt, and when the ACT-I-VATE opportunity came about, I decided to stop [wasting time] and go for it.”


Crabapple is the artist behind Back Stage, a murder mystery set in the sordid, grease-paint splendor of the vaudeville circuit in New York City in 1904. The frames teem with detail and many are by turns both glamourous and gritty.

Crabapple’s affinity for the burlesque goes beyond her drawings. She’s the founder of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School , the life-drawing class which centers on burlesque dancers as its subjects, and she is a performer herself. Her career is a slippery one to try to define, and that makes her perfect for the still-protean webcomics scene of 2008.

Images courtesy of Act-I-Vate