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Vanguard Moon: How Johnny Zito and Tony Trov Reinvented the Future of Comics

In picking up the well-worn Golden Age classic Moon Girl, writing duo Johnny Zito and Tony Trov table the central debate of 21st century creativity -- an open source of intellectual property.

Moon Girl is a game of differences.

When a thirty-something Gardner Fox was penning the maiden tales of Moon Girl, the comicbook format was still taking its baby steps across the living room floor. Alterations to the standard's size, page-length, materials used and the overall aesthetic would fluctuate for decades to come. And in 2010, comic books fans are still picking up a few pieces of stapled paper and flipping through them in a delicate or haphazard fashion -- depending on the reader. The difference is that now readers have a choice.

As the writing duo of Johnny Zito and Tony Trov plucked the Moon Girl character from Golden Age obscurity in 2009, the phrase “digital comics” was neither unheard of nor groundbreaking. It had been given a service through Marvel, commentary through the authoritative writings of scribes like Scott McCloud and was beginning to spill into the realm of mobile phones. Digital comics were already here. It just took a few twenty-somethings from Philadelphia to officiate the marriage between the vintage and the vanguard.

“The digital revolution is now and we want to be part of it,” Zito said. “There are all new boundaries to explore and the whole medium just opened up.”

The duo saw Moon Girl as more than just a character who “lapsed into the public domain.” Arriving at the decision to bring Golden Age to the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch via the Comixology service, consisted heavily of research. What the duo found was an evolving and “schizophrenic” narrative in Moon Girl. Even in her early days, the character sought to break conventions.

Despite her obvious ties to the Wonder Woman character as fellow foreign royalty and peered assertive feminine presence, Clare Lune revealed herself as both a fascinating and hopelessly complex figure.

“She had very few appearances over the late 40's but dealt with really interesting themes about identity, ideology and a post war society,” Trov said. “Moon Girl began as a super powered princess who fought gangsters and war profiteers. Over the course of publication her comic became a romance; straight up she puts away the super hero stuff and starts playing house.”

Zito adds the time-capsuling value of the character's inconsistencies.

“[It] felt like all of Moon Girl's mood swings were a reflection of the times,” Zito said. “A very powerful country coming out of a long, terrible war was in the grips of an identity crisis.”

“You look around today and things are very much the same,” Trov added, commenting on its contemporary relevance . “So, we're toying with the political unrest and psychoanalytic discoveries from then to talk about now.”

Zito and Trov began plotting the current incarnation Moon Girl in the summer of 2009. They ended up with a five-chapter saga, with set page-lengths extended by elongated sequences crafted by their visual and digital collaborator. They had met the nortiously-bearded artist The Rahzzah through the Internet – an appropriate biographical tidbit considering both the digital and mysterious nature of the series. Mysterious also is the future of the mobile format itself, and as the Moon Girl series releases its second collected edition, Trov and Zito provide a combined realism and optimism in the face of the current medium shift.

“The marketplace will decide which genres and formats flourish,” Trov said. “As the audience expands, I think the medium will be able to support a huge variety of both.”

Zito elaborates on own views of what digital comics offer to readers and creators. His words reflect the model that Moon Girl has set for future electronic endeavors.

“The future of comics might be its past,” Zito offered. “There are countless volumes of old comics that need to be scanned and broken down. Every comic ever published should be available digitally.”

The two maintain that there are actual creative benefits to the digital form. However, as the written word may have its collar loosened in some aspects, specifically what Zito references as “page count takes a backseat to story,” the artist is challenged with obstacles unprecedented in the medium. Artists are forced to deal with both surface-level aesthetics and psychological conventions that affect the way readers understand the story.

“Now that panel progression is one-at-a-time, the audience has the control to speed up or slow down their own experience,” Trov said. “So the artist has to maintain a sense of motion and pace to focus the readers' attention. But it's still sequential art which preserves it as comic and not animation.” 

Zito agrees that the duo is “lucky to work with some amazingly talented illustrators who keep inventing new ways to take advantage of the format.” Of course, one of those illustrators is The Rahzzah. Indeed, the success of the series is equally due to the bold and seamlessly kinetic visuals provided by the only creator on the book whose name is preceded by an article. The artist's touch instills a classically striking New York, post-WW2 backdrop, with characters filling the frames with unrest and odd energy – particularly noticeable when you realize you are reading it on the same thing you use to call your mother. That same device affords several artistic opportunities that extend beyond what is used by only sense.

“There are no hard, fast rules so we can experiment with things like a musical supplement, QR codes that lead to hidden art and five-page splashes,” Trov said. “Comixology's guided viewing experience allows us to be cinematic with Moon Girl and Carnivale De Robotique while keeping traditional print options in mind.”

Carnivale De Robotique, the comic adventures of a robot nanny, is one of multiple other series currently penned by the duo. They also provide the story and script for Black Cherry Bombshells, the DC Comics-published story of a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas.

Upcoming series include LaMorte Sisters, focusing on a vampiric orphanage. Certainly the duo has much to be excited about. According to Zito, the digital format fuels that excitement by spurring creativity. 

“Digital comics broaden the marketplace of ideas,” Zito said. “This is research and development for print, cartoons and video games. Digital comics get readers into brick and mortar stores better than blockbuster movies.”

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