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CrossGen After Comic-Con

It should come as no surprise that CrossGen Comics dropped a few bombshells at the San Diego Comic-Con. Dropping bombshells seems to be a way of life for the publishing company. What remains surprising is just how explosive this still relatively young publisher can be. Until you actually meet CrossGen CEO Mark Alessi, a force of nature disguised as a really charming guy. If he occasionally threatens to crush the competition, it's forgivable. Because really, it should only make them work harder.

On Thursday, CrossGen rolled out Version 2.0 of Comics On The Web, aka COW. You may have seen the first version, which enabled users to view back issues on-line. With an extra tool that allowed for slight manipulation and magnification of text, CrossGen made it pretty easy to read comics across the internet. And now they've made it even easier.

2.0 includes sound files. Basically, CrossGen has hired voice-over talent to portray the characters, as well as scored each title. Comics on the Web has become a truly multi-sensory experience. The company demonstrated it throughout the weekend, playing on monitors above their booth. Admittedly, some of the voices sounded a little stilted, but it's another step that forces "the other guys" to catch up. (And it's the honest truth that even at Version 1, Comics On The Web was still ahead of the pack.) More impressively, it comes in a variety of languages, with more in development.

If you think that this new web experience makes it too easy for potential readers to just listen and look at pretty pictures, Alessi has another think coming for you. While not garnering quite as much attention as the rest of CrossGen's announcements, the company had a table set aside for their new educational program.

Working with top educators, CrossGen has developed a literacy program for elementary through high schools, using Meridian, Sigil and Ruse. Fully loaded with activities and exercises to stimulate critical thinking, the program has a reasonable price that Alessi estimates at around the cost of four textbooks.

Obviously, getting new readers into comics is of the utmost priority for CrossGen. (And it should be for everybody else, too.) So why not start in the schools? Alessi's point is that if you can get a kid excited about reading, he'll move from comics to more traditional literature. It worked for me.

After swearing he had no time to talk and still chatting for a good twenty minutes, Alessi made us vow to attend the company's presentation on Friday, in which several Hollywood deals were to be announced. Through their Hollywood liaison, Michael E. Uslan, CrossGen has made some sweetheart deals.

Bear in mind that even with the almost unprecedented creative control CrossGen apparently has, the road to actual film is paved with exciting announcements and false starts. Here, however, is what Uslan has lined up for CrossGen:

  • Scion: In development with director Chuck Russell (The Mask, The Scorpion King
  • Way of the Rat: Also attached to Russell, who has taken it to Castle Rock Entertainment (Rob Reiner's production company) and begun working with Frank Darabont on development.
  • Route 666: From Robert Zemeckis' company Image Movers, Bennet Scheer announced that this new CrossGen property has caught Zemeckis' eye.
  • Sigil: Mortal Kombat producer Larry Kasanoff claimed that his company, Threshold Entertainment, has gained the interest of a young superstar writer on this project.
  • Meridian: Larry Whitaker from Cornerstone Animation announced that his company would be working on the adventures of Sephie. Though a fairly new company, Cornerstone did take on a huge chunk of Return To Neverland, making what could have been a routine exercise into something watchable.
  • Mystic: Though director Wes Craven (Scream) was not in attendance, Uslan confirmed the long-lived rumor that the horror master wanted to make a Mystic movie.

    Getting into bed with Hollywood has already proven to work both ways for CrossGen. On Saturday, CrossGen announced that Hurricane Entertainment would be releasing their upcoming Snake Plissken title through the recently formed CGE imprint. Though it's likely CrossGen wanted everything Hurricane has to offer, the critically acclaimed Violent Messiahs will remain at Image.

    Sister imprint Code 6 Comics also scored a coup by bringing fantasy author R.A. Salvatore's best-selling Demon Wars to comics. "In looking at what CrossGen was doing," Salvatore offered, "I saw an absolute parallel in what I was doing."

    Salvatore will not be writing the books, but a colleague from his days toiling in the Forgotten Realms series will be. Scott Ciencin will scribe, with Ron Wagner tapped to pencil. For fans of the Demon Wars novels, it may be important to note that the comics will be based on a new cycle of books in the works.

    The company promises even more announcements in the next few weeks. If things go on track, it's likely they'll be announcing their annexation of Florida by December.

    Derek McCaw

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