One of my favourite contemporary science fiction authors, Australia’s own Marianne de Pierres, tells me that she’s managed to scratch two itches for the price of one, satisfying an urge to dabble in comics (previously as well as her excellent science fictionnovels her work has also inspired gaming and animation) and a very long held desire to tell a Western tale, something she’s wanted to do since her father gave her an old Western novel by the immortal Zane Grey (favoured author of Colonel Sherman T Potter, if memory serves correctly). Marianne has teamed up with award-winning comics artist Brigitte Sutherland (who recently released her own creator-owned The Adventures of a Homunculus) for Peacemaker, a Western set in the vast Australian wilderness.
(cover artwork to the first issue of Peacemakerby and (c) Marianne de Pierres and Brigitte Sutherland)
Except this wilderness isn’t quite what it seems – Park Western is the only piece of natural wilderness left in the entire country, enclosed by an enormous Australian mega-city. Park Ranger Virgin Jackson, a tough woman (who has an eagle as an imaginary friend) is determined to preserve Park Western at any cost and with events including dead bodies turning up, missing spiritualists and a psychotic businessman called Joachim Spears forces her to work in an uneasy alliance with a cowboy of a US Marshall, Nate Sixkiller. I’ve got to admit I am intrigued – partly because, as I said, I’m a big fan of Marianne’s novels (in fact Peacemaker has sprung from a work-in-progress prose novel, but the comic version developed more quickly) and I’ve particularly admired her ability to create some very strong, independent and often pretty tough and resourceful female lead characters (who still keep their femininity and a measure of sensitivity with that strength and drive and toughness) and her Parish Plessis novels (published by Orbit) also showcased a nice SF take on future Australian land and cityscapes.
(a page from the first issue of Peacemakerby and (c) Marianne de Pierres and Brigitte Sutherland)
It is also interesting to me, and I suspect will interest a number of others in the comics biz, because unlike many comics posted up by their creators online, this is actually a pay-to-read comic. The first issue, which I’ve had a wee look at, is being offered at 99 cents (Australian) and the next issue (due August/September) will be at $2.99 Australian. Which is pretty cheap in UK or US terms, but given that many online expect to get their reading or music or any other media free it will be interesting to see how this goes. As it says on Marianne’s site, they are charging for it because A) she is a professional author and doesn’t want to devalue her skills and B) so they can do something important and pay Brigitte for her artwork duties. Which sounds quite sensible and reasonable to me, the question being, will web comics readers pay for it? Well Marianne has a very good established fanbase who follow her work and a good web presence where she updates her readers regularly on the latest work, so she has a good potential pool of people who may well be interested and would pay a (pretty small after all) amount of money. Since a lot of creators – comics folk and otherwise – are still working out ways to put their work out there digitally but also make a wee bit back on it, I imagine a lot of folks will follow this with interest to see how it goes (there are also plans for a limited physical print edition later on); I certainly wish them best of luck with it.