Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the premise of your comic book series, Touch, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Heinz Olaf Klöppel: My series, Touch, tells the story of cop Jona Maza who has a special ability: When she touches something with her bare skin, she can see the strongest emotions of other people who’ve felt them while handling this item or just sticking around at this place. It's like she has a very subjective and unreliable view into the past. She keeps her powers a secret and suffers from their drawbacks, but she never gives up.
About inspiration, here’s the thing: I was fed up with “anti-heroes" and "chosen ones." I want to give you a true hero, a strong female character who can inspire by doing the right things, despite the negative consequences to herself. Then, I always loved the Marvel Comics character, Rogue, especially with her disastrous inability to touch other people.
Talking about being fed up with something: I was also fed up with Super-Mega-Blockbuster-Longterm-Series and bookshelf-bending paperbacks! I remember the time when a single issue of Spider-Man or Batman could make my day and not leave me wondering if anything actually happened in the last 22 pages!
I also like crime-solving TV shows like Bones, CSI, NCIS, and many others, where a story’s completed within a single episode and it works out pretty well - much better than the "monster of the week" thing in older sci-fi series, if you ask me. So, I decided to settle this positive hero character into a thriller/cop-story setting.
All my stories are placed in smaller, finished episodes that describe the solving of a crime. I try not to exceed one or two issues per crime, and give more printed pages to a single book. My printed books usually have 28 inside pages (and it’s all story - no ads). So, I took all this, played around with it in my head for some years and – voilà! Here it is: Touch!
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in writing and penciling the series, and what have been some of your creative influences? Likewise, what were your experiences in working with inkers Veronica Gontz and Ruben Gonzalez, as well as colorists Liezl Buenaventura and Ester Salguero?
HOK: Actually, we stick pretty much to the US mainstream approach of making comics, even if it’s very, very uncommon for a German independent book, as the market’s often just too small to pay so many people per book. I write the story, a process that usually involves a lot of typing, Post-Its, and sleepless nights. After that, I do digital scribbles and, eventually, digital pencils for the story. At this stage, I just throw text on the page however it comes to mind. It ends up as a mixture of German and English dialogue that I clean up afterward.
I love the work of various artists, but I think the greatest influence on my storytelling and pencil work originates from Mark Gruenwald, John Byrne, Kieron Dwyer, Terry Moore, and a lot of '80s TV cartoons.
Now, my team kicks in. These freelance artists work for money, but they didn't come to me by chance. The process to select just the right people for the best possible team took 6 months, with paid pitches from artists all over the world.
The next step for me is to record a video for my team, where I explain to them what mood I want to see in each scene, where I hope the colors will make something pop out, and all that stuff.
Then, the English version goes out in parallel to my inkers and my English proofreader, a pro from the UK. She challenges the dialogue (especially the stuff that came to my mind in German and was translated afterward) until it really sounds like native English - an invaluable contribution that sometimes also influences the German version. So, you can imagine why it's hard for me to answer the question I often get asked at Comic Cons: Are my books originally written in German or English?
In the meantime, Veronica and Ruben start their magic and do the inking. They actually work traditionally… they print stuff off, ink it and scan it again.
Next step is coloring. That was by Liezl for the first issues, and Ester from Issue 2. I have to stress the word "magic" once again here, because what they manage to add to the atmosphere with Photoshop coloring is hardly explainable.
Working with these professionals is amazing. Honestly, it started out as a "time saver" to help me keep to the release schedule, but it grew to become so much more. I really enjoy the part of the process, when I get stuff back and sometimes think: "I never thought this scene could look so good!"
So, I'd love to work with them for the whole series. Everyone involved gave me special "independent comic" rates because they wanted to support the project. But - I have to admit - the first two issues didn’t even make a tenth of the money I needed to pay them. So, there might be some changes needed in the future. But at least Touch 1, 2 and 3 are safely done with this team.
BD: You have described Touch as the “world's first Full-HD comic.” What makes the series’ delivery unique, and how would you describe its preparation?
HOK: The question that drives me is: "How would a comic look like that is made for digital - and the paper version’s only a secondary medium?"
When you look at other comics, they’re usually made of paper and THEN brought to the screen. That can be as simple as a comic-sized page scanned into a blog, or as sophisticated as ComiXology. But still, it uses content in a medium and aspect ratio it was never meant for.
Touch is the other way around. I developed a special WebViewer that (without additional software) brings you the comic panel-by-panel in full screen, with the speech bubbles fading in one after the other as you click, swipe or hit a keyboard key. Then, I designed the whole series to be optimized for that. Every panel has a 16:9 aspect, or is part of a panel sequence that totals 16:9. So, you get full screen on every single panel, without turning, scrolling, or zooming. Also, the font size is identical on each panel.
That might not sound too amazing, but that's exactly why it IS amazing. When you read a good printed comic book, you dive into the story, and at the end, it spills you out. The job of that paper is to NOT disturb you while you’re in the story. The goal of Touch - the world’s first Full-HD Comic - is to give you a way of reading a comic book on your mobile/tablet/laptop/PC/TV/you-name-it, in a way that’s similar, NOT dragging you out of the story by occasionally reminding you that you are in front of a digital device.
Give it a try! There's a free excerpt here.
BD: What do you hope that readers will take away from your work?
HOK: A good time reading! Honestly, my main goal is to entertain my readers. Full stop. And if I can give them some positive role models at the same time, it’s a bonus.
BD: If given the opportunity to expand your series into other entertainment mediums, in what format do you hope to see it adapted?
HOK: I won’t say TV show or movie, now… It’s pretty obvious. Every creator dreams of achieving this, don’t they?
I'm currently considering spicing up the online version of Touch with professional voice-overs. Still a comic, especially in terms of you having your own reading pace, but every time you see a speech bubble, you’ll also hear the character’s voice. Also, I have a concept for a mobile game in my drawer.
But for both of these ideas, funding’s unclear just yet. Realistically, the next step would probably be to find a US publisher to help me get a very little share of the US market. That would increase possibilities tremendously for everything else…
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
HOK: The release cycle of Touch is "one panel a day" (for subscribers and those who pre-order). After the last panel’s released online, I print the paper version, and this is always accompanied by a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.
So, the next thing will be the Kickstarter for the printed version of Touch #3. It’ll start sometime in April and offer great rewards, like the “community edition,” a limited edition version of the cover including the names of all Kickstarter backers in the artwork, and is sold exclusively on Kickstarter (and remainders at my own Comic-Con booth and website).
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Touch?
HOK: My homepage (hok-comics.com) and especially the mailing list, if you want to get the really important updates, like release announcements. (I won't spam you… it involved three e-mails in the last year!)
If you’re also interested in any casual news and occasional scribbles, I'm also on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook (@HOKComics). I'm always happy about new subscribers and followers, plus I answer any message I receive.