Herocopia Reborn



Here’s the other announcement I’ve been meaning to make for a while…

Herocopia.com, the ASTRO CITY wiki run by the redoubtable (and indefatigable) John Bacon, a.k.a. the Information Broker, is back online and open for business. Check it out here if you’d like to contribute, or even just browse.

Herocopia, named for the online site seen in ASTRO CITY: LOCAL HEROES #3, was a part of our old website, and had built up a very large storehouse of data before it crashed. It’s taken us (and when I say “us,” I mean John Bacon and friends) a long time to get it back into shape. Here’s what John has to say about it:

One of the most precious aspects of the Herocopia Project has been the accumulation of a massive warehouse of information about the characters, geography and events in, of, and about Astro City. Unfortunately, Herocopia.com underwent a serious crash caused by autobot software vandalizing the site with external links and a lot of noise. Some just to make trouble, some to boost their site search ratings at Herocopia’s expense. We couldn’t keep up manually, and eventually enough spam littered the place that it caused the internal database handling the content to completely breakdown. Editing was no longer even possible.

So Herocopia went silent.

Now it just so happens that my son, Seth Gupton, and I are software engineers and we both have pretty solid knowledge of the underlying hardware and software that it takes to run a mediaWiki site like Herocopia. My son especially, since he was already doing hardcore administration work for a couple of wiki sites dedicated to the popular and long running Ultima computer games.

We had the technical means to get a new Herocopia site up and running, but it would be helpful if we could rescue the old content. Alas, the news from J.G. Roshell, Astro City’s design wizard and the founding father of Herocopia, was disappointing. He confirmed that the database was broken and the content completely gone. Plus, he’d switched to a new server provider service, so the old broken database wasn’t even available anymore. A salvage operation wasn’t in the works.

We needed the old content. More than the meager pages that I had lurking on my computers. LOTS more.

Our next option was to search the web at large for websites that randomly archive old web pages. Seth and I discovered that the Wayback Machine located at www.archive.org is a fairly good source and could be mined for better than half of the Herocopia.com content from the past. Still, it required a lot of hand editing to bring it back to a format suitable for mediaWiki development and deployment.

At least hope was now on our side. We built a prototype server (Apache) on one of my home machines, linked JG and Kurt to it for initial review and signoff, and then began the process of rebuilding Herocopia  pretty much from scratch. Besides restoring the old layout forms and templates (none of which was recoverable from the archives), we’ve also added (again thanks mainly to son Seth and his knowledge of wiki extensions) parsing templates to the editing process. That’ll make old and new editing easier for authors who want to focus on content, not  layout.  Finally, we’ve begun the tedious work of pulling the old data into the site. We’ve defined a process for doing that with details and links on the new www.herocopia.com help page. That’s a hint that if you want to help we will welcome it, greatly.

I also want to thank the veteran wiki-authors (especially Astrozak, Yiding and Podboy) for all their previous contributions and assure them that we’ve taken serious steps to (hopefully) prevent this from happening again.

So that’s the story! Herocopia’s back—and hopefully to stay!

Our fervent thanks to John, Seth, and everyone who’s helped build the site, in both versions.

Liberty Project – On Demand

LibProjCoverI’ve been meaning to mention this for a while, but THE LIBERTY PROJECT, my first creator-owned book, is now available in a spiffy new print-on-demand edition, and if you’re so inclined, you can get it right here:

The Liberty Project

For those who may not have heard of THE LIBERTY PROJECT, it’s a series I did with artist/co-creator James W. Fry III, inker Doug Hazlewood and others, back in the late 1980s. It’s about a quartet of young, super-powered criminals given a chance to pay their debt to society by doing community service as superheroes—a process that goes rather less than smoothly, considering. It’s the first series where I really got to explore my obsession with reforming villains, redemption and so on, and as such it plants the seeds or what became THUNDERBOLTS, various arcs of ASTRO CITY, and even stuff I haven’t had a chance to write yet.

It didn’t sell well, to say the least. We did the book for Eclipse, back at a time when superhero comics either got published by Marvel or DC, or very few readers gave ’em a shot. And certainly, a book by creators barely anyone had heard of before wasn’t really going to push the needle on that front. We lasted eight issues plus a TOTAL ECLIPSE crossover special (plus, years later, when Neil Vokes and I did JACK KIRBY’S TEENAGENTS for Topps, they guest-starred for an issue and a bit), but we had a lot of fun, and readers keep asking if we’ll ever bring them back. Also, to my surprise, of all the projects I’ve created, it’s near the top in terms of getting the most interest from TV and movie folks, so who knows, maybe someday these guys will hit the screen (big or small), and James and I will be flabbergasted but delighted.

Anyway, the color repro material for the series was lost, sold or destroyed long ago, when Eclipse went bankrupt, but a decade or so back Nat Gertler at About Comics put together a very nice black-and-white trade paperback of the series, collecting the entire Eclipse run, and it’s been nice to have the material out there and available for new readers to discover.

Now Nat’s reworked the book a little, and he explains why:

“The reason for switching to print on demand wasn’t that we’d run out of copies, but because we’d run into a problematic sales loop. While the collection enjoyed a healthy run of sales, after a decade on the market sales had slowed  enough that Diamond, who were distributing the book to the book market as well as to comic shops, didn’t want to keep copies in stock. Instead, they take orders, and when enough orders have built up, they order copies from the publisher. At this point in the book’s lifecycle, most of the orders come from Amazon, and when Amazon runs out of copies and sees there are none waiting at the distributor warehouse, they start showing on the book’s page that any order for the book will be filled not in days, but in weeks, even in months. That sort of delay discourages customers, which means that Amazon is ordering fewer copies, which means it takes longer if ever for Diamond to have enough orders to then order from the publisher. So while the book was still in print, it effectively fell out of distribution. By moving the book to print-on-demand, suddenly the book is always immediately available on Amazon; you order a copy, they’ll print it and ship it out, and that’s true whether we’re selling a copy every minute or a copy every year.”

We were very happy with the previous edition—like Nat said, it’s sold nicely over the years, before it got stuck in the distribution thing—so we haven’t changed it much. A sharper-looking logo, slightly-differently-sized pages to accommodate the needs and aesthetics of the POD setup, but other than that it’s the same book.

Will they ever return? Well, it’s something James and I talk about every now and then, and we’re actually working on a thing right now in which they make a brief appearance. So it’s well within the realm of possibility. And in the meantime, it’s nice to have the material readily available again, via technologies that didn’t exist back when we created these guys.

This is one of the (many) things I like about creator ownership. The LEGEND OF WONDER WOMAN mini-series I wrote back then, to pick an example, only exists—and is only ever likely to exist—in back-issue form, unless someday DC decides it’s worth digging up and republishing. But the stuff I co-own and control, it can live on, as long as readers are interested enough to want to pick it up.

I can’t say it’ll make any of us rich. But then, neither did THE LEGEND OF WONDER WOMAN. But it’s nice to have the stories out there, for those who care to read them…