Urban Animal is Coming. Part 1: Justin Jordan
The rise of webcomics is inevitable. In the past few years, Webtoons, the largest comic-reading platform in the world, has gathered millions of readers who are constantly consuming new series from diverse creators from around the globe. Recently, original comics from that platform have received animated adaptations by Crunchyroll, with Tower of God and The King of High School becoming some of the most critically acclaimed shows of 2020. Many established creators from Marvel and DC fame, like Warren Ellis, Marc Silvestri, and Michael Avon Oeming, have taken their talents to the platform, and every day the number of artists, writers, and even filmmakers who are publishing on Webtoons is rising.
One of said creators is Justin Jordan, whose series Urban Animal has become one of the most popular webcomics on the platform. His previous work includes comics like the Luther Strode series for Image, Shadowman for Valiant Comics, and Green Lantern and Sideways with DC Comics, just to name a few. As an award-nominated author with hundreds of books from almost every major publisher on his back, one can’t help but be impressed by his decision to diversify into digital comics. Especially in a genre that is so different from what American Comics usually offer.
Urban Animal tells the story of Joe Gomez, a Filipino-American teenager who one day discovers he is actually a Chimera: a mystical creature with the power to transform into any animal, granting him abilities that go beyond anything he can imagine. Soon he will see himself caught in the middle of an ancient war that he does not fully understand, forced to engage in epic battles and learn more about his mysterious origins. It is a perfect mix of Shonen manga with Young Adult fantasy, with brutal fight scenes (courtesy of genius artist John Amor) and unforgettable twists that keep readers on edge with every weekly release.
The comic is publishing its third season now, and it has over 475.2K subscribers on Webtoon. Recently, it was announced that the first season of the series will be adapted to a print volume of over 200+ pages, which will be funded through a Kickstarter campaign.
I had the pleasure to sit down with Justin Jordan and talk about his experience with Webtoons, the future of the comics industry, advices for new writers and the future of Urban Animal.
What made you go from writing for The Big Two to create a webcomic?
Creativity and career longevity.
On the creativity part, I am pretty restless, and I am always interested in trying out new stuff. I've done a few graphic novels now, stuff that wasn't serialized first, and I really liked being able to write to different rhythms. So I wanted to try something different. Webtoons is kind of hyperserialized, and it presents different visually because of the scroll, so it was a different (and as it turns out, super fun) kind of writing experience. But I also do this professionally, and that goes into career longevity.
A couple of years ago I took a long look at the US comic market. A lot of people think of comics as being just the direct market, which is comic shops and superheroes, in the simple form. The thing is, that aspect of comics is the least popular. The bookstore and library market for instance, where Dav Pilkey and Raina Telgemeier work, has millions of readers. So does webcomics generally. Manga sells in bigger numbers. So if I want to do nothing but write for the rest of my life, it made sense for me to start diversifying what I was doing. So I'm doing direct market work, but also graphic novels for the bookstore market, digital originals, webcomics... basically all comics. Which in this Covid cursed year, turned out to be a smart move. So good job, Past Justin.
What are some differences between writing for a regular monthly comic series and writing for Webtoons?
The expectations from the audience are different, and so is the experience, so it changes a fair bit. So, for instance, if I want Joe and his parents to sit down and have a conversation, I can give that a lot more breathing room than I could in a comic coming out in single issues. Likewise, since it scrolls, pacing is different, and so are reveals. It's a lot more flexible in that regard.
We are slowly moving from print media to digital. Do you think platforms like Webtoons will become the norm in the future, or do you think there is still place in the market for serialized issues? There absolutely is, and a bigger and more robust digital market could be better for the serialized issues. The problem is that we don't really have a great pipeline from the other, larger markets into the direct market, AND we are producing a product people often don't want.
The analogy I use is music. A robust digital market for music creates a situation where something like vinyl can thrive. Vinyl is still a niche market comparatively, but it's healthy because the feeder market is huge. But comics doesn't have the bridge to get people from the bookstore or library or Webtoons to the shop. That's problem one. But problem two is that the direct market is dominated by the big two, and they produce a product for a VERY specific audience. Like, I am a professional nerd. I have read comics all my life, and have published hundreds. And even for me, a lot of what Marvel and DC put out is incomprehensible to me, let alone someone coming in new. It's designed to get people to buy a lot of comics, but as a result it only really appeals to people who....buy a lot of comics. So to strain the metaphor, not only is the comic market offering vinyl, it's specifically offering only German Death Reggae. Which is to say, there is a place, but we need to do more to provide a bridge in, and content that other markets want. That's in addition to the specialist stuff we have now, not instead of.
This is actually me asking as a fan… Can Joe Gomez beat Luther Strode? And how would that fight go?
Depends. Season one Joe would die immediately. Season three Joe...?
The comic deals a lot with body horror, and you have already experimented with the genre in works like Spread. Is that something you’re planning to explore more as the series progresses?
Oh I'm sure. I find body horror to be some of the most effective, and I think it's a natural fit when you're dealing with shape shifting.
You are currently publishing season 3 on Webtoons. How many seasons are you and John planning to release of the story? We have a plan for six seasons, although that's dependent on Webtoons letting us run for six seasons. The series is still getting readers so I think we have a good shot. The world is rich enough we could go beyond six, but I am a believer in telling your story and then getting out (as demonstrated with Strode and Spread).
If you had the possibility to become a Chimera, what animal or hybrid would you be?
Well, I am famously very fond of cats...
Any advice for aspiring writers who want to enter the world of digital comics?
- Write stuff
- Finish that stuff
- Write more stuff
Which is my advice for any writer, but specific to digital, make sure to study the form. Read a lot of digital stuff and pick apart why it does and doesn't work, which is literally what I did to prep for Urban Animal
What can we expect from the future of Urban Animal as a series and franchise?
Well, we're gearing up for the Kickstarter for the print version of the first season, so people who've been adverse to reading on screens (no judgment) can get it there. Creatively, we've gone bigger and crazier with each season, and that's going to continue. It's a fun series to work and I hope people dig it.
You can purchase a copy of Urban Animal Season 1 here: