Where Dat Webcomic? Cowboys & Aliens

It's a great cover... now what happened to the rest of it?

I start this blog fully willing to be humbled. Please, find the comic for me. Explain to me why my suppositions are wrong. Tell me why I shouldn’t feel annoyed. Because right now? I kinda am. But I also am running on maybe one or two days’ worth of research, here, at most, so my anger could have little basis in actual fact. But that doesn’t stop teabaggers, so right now I ain’t letting it stop me.

By now those of you who have been following Erik’s Comic Reel on CBR, or other comics to film news feeds, should be aware of the upcoming movie adaptation of Cowboys & Aliens. With people like Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford signed onto the cast, and John Favreau at the helm, it’s shaping up to be a pretty big deal.

But before I ever heard of cinematic rumblings, last year I came across and read Cowboys & Aliens in its original form (or at least, so I thought), which was as a webcomic published on DrunkDuck. DrunkDuck, if you’re not aware, has existed since 2002 as a free webcomic hosting service, providing online space and ready-made templates for just about anyone who has a comic idea and wants to sign up. You’ve got to deal with their ad banner in exchange, but it’s not a bad option for someone just starting out, and some of the comics hosted there are actually quite popular and of high quality.

Cowboys & Aliens appeared to be one of the high end residents, having come online in 2006. It was also published as a print graphic novel around that time, but the online version of the whole story, or at least its first arc, was available as recently as late 2009. As webcomics, or just comics go, it was a fun romp. Fairly stock characters and formulaic plot, but nice professional quality artwork and no shortage of delivery on the promised Cowboy vs. Alien action. Comparisons were distinctly made from the start between the Manifest Destiny of the American expansion into the West and a more galactic version of the same philosophy used by the aggressive alien empire. Naturally, once the aliens land the Paleface and the Indians have to put their differences aside to face the threat that wants to subjugate them both.

I read through all of part 1, and like I said, fun romp, even if they presented the alien language in what I considered to be a singularly annoying fashion (simple letter substitution, but you had to scroll down to the comments section for any translations… which kind of defeated the purpose of reading a comic, in my opinion). Yes, Alan Moore does stuff like that, for example in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but it never seemed to get in the way as much.

I digress, however. I never moved on to part 2 at the time, so I can’t say for sure if clicking it would have just instructed me to go buy the print version. If I had, I might have considered it a bit douchey for something ostensibly supposed to be a webcomic, but I would have shrugged and moved on.

I can’t tell you if this was the case though, because just the other day I went back to check on part 2… and not only is it not there, but the first 49 or so pages I read are gone as well! Actually, no, they left up the cover and the first five pages as an “Introduction”, then it just stops. And the blog just tells you the movie’s coming out.

What. The. Fuck.

Keep in mind, the graphic novel was published years ago without them taking the webcomic offline. It’s also out of print, unless you want to pay 40 bucks or more for it on Amazon from third parties, i.e. transactions that aren’t profiting them.

I poked around, trying to figure out if I was just blind and it had moved somewhere. Nope, as far as I can tell, they just yanked the whole thing. Was this some bizarre element of the movie contract? Why the fuck would the movie studio care? From what I’ve heard of the script, they’ve all but completely discarded the original storyline, anyhow.

This wasn’t some fiat by DrunkDuck that the creators were powerless to stop, either. Up until a few weeks ago, Platinum Studios (who published Cowboys & Aliens) owned Drunkduck. Not-so-coincidentally, that ownership started in 2006. Maybe it was fiat by WOWIO, the new owners, but WOWIO used to be part of Platinum.

Also, there was a follow-up webcomic entitled Cowboys & Aliens II that’s still fully available on DrunkDuck (EDIT: or was… seems to be gone now). But it stopped abruptly in March 2008, with the last word from the creators being that they were waiting on a go-ahead from Platinum. Platinum was going through some serious financial and legal issues at the time, and although they seem to have recovered, C&A II did not.

So, at the moment I’m left with no answer but that the webcomic availability of the first graphic novel was pulled as a deliberate act, for no particular reason. And I kind of hate that. Even if the plan is to republish a new edition of the graphic novel (likely splashed with ‘Now A Major Motion Picture!’), I still hate that. In trying to find out what might have been the possible motive, my hate only grew…

The reason for that is because I dug up a couple of old blogs regarding the graphic novel, one by Brian Cronin of CBR, and another by Gilead Pellaeon of The Webcomicker. If you’re interested you can read them here and here.

Look, by accounts Scott Michael Rosenberg, the head of Platinum Studios, is actually a genuinely nice guy who loves comics. But what struck me about Brian Cronin’s blog (and Brian Cronin is very, very well informed about comics happenings) is that Rosenberg was shopping Cowboys & Aliens around as a movie screenplay for years before it ever occurred to him to leverage new media. And that’s just what seems like happened… Rosenberg had this concept, hired some professionals to make a comic/webcomic out of it, used DrunkDuck (and possibly shady Local Comic Store deals) to promote the hell out of it, and now that he finally got the movie deal he was after, well, the webcomic can apparently go fuck itself?

Was that really it? Was the Cowboys & Aliens webcomic just a glorified four year advertisement tossing out lures until Hollywood bit — at which point the “ad” was yanked, having served its purpose? Because if so, that pretty much pisses me off to no end.

So please, tell me I’m wrong.

About Clint

Clint Wolf is an opinionated nerd, who writes a comic (Zombie Ranch) about cowboys who wrangle zombies. We didn't claim he made sense. http://cwolf.zxq.net/
This entry was posted in Four Color, Home of the Bizarre Rant, Week in Rage and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Where Dat Webcomic? Cowboys & Aliens

  1. The Ghost who talks says:

    It’s no surprise they yanked it. The art and story in the webcomic and graphic novel were terrible! It’s likely that the script and story have changed for Hollywood. It’s also no secret in the comic book industry that Platinum is a joke and doesn’t love “comics” much, just the idea of exploiting them for film. In that case I guess they are a joke that will be laughing all the way to the bank. What bothers me are all of the creators and projects they left hanging. Rosenberg can play like he “cares” about comic books all day, but he’s used creators left and right and then burned them. Search the news stories on CBR, the beat, etc. You think someone in Hollywood would care about a backlash and not work with them… But haha its Hollywood and those guys are even more ruthless. It’s simply all about the $$$

    It’s very lame for them to pull the comic down – they should let the whole world judge just how god awful that book is. They had to PSY stores to carry it!

    • Clint says:

      I’m poking around this morning and finding more juicy tidbits like the fate of “Hero By Night”, and New York Times article regarding their DrunkDuck acquisition. One question though… what does PSY stand for in this context?

  2. Clint says:

    FOUND! Looks like it moved over to the actual WOWIO site.


    How did I find it? Google, which led me to a post on a stock site(?), about this blog, from a user that I presume is affiliated with Platinum. I guess my blog was worth reading, but not responding to directly. Eh.


    No big deal, at least I now know there’s still a free version somewhere for folks to gawk at. And here’s a thought, Platinum/WOWIO folks, beyond just responding with “go to WOWIO LOL” and leaving it at that. It’s a crazy, crazy thought.

    – Go to your Cowboys & Aliens page at DrunkDuck (which is also where cowboysandaliens.net redirects to)

    – Edit it to include that information.

    If that link had been there, I would have had to find a different blog topic.

    I’m just sayin’.

  3. Madddog says:

    Glad you found it. Your thought is great, but like you I am just a blogger and not affiliated with Platinum, I have no control over adding or removing links. Sure I could have added the link in the message, but where is the fun in that if nobody responds to your post.

    Nice article anyway.

    • Clint says:

      Fair enough. Out of curiosity, Maddog, do you know what date it was that they pulled down the DrunkDuck presence in favor of WOWIO? Was it a few weeks ago when the ownership transfer occurred, or earlier than that? Right now all I know is it was somewhere between last week and late last year.

  4. Madddog says:

    Around Feb-March timeframe that I noticed there was only a few pages. Only Platinum knows why it was pulled. I will say that the comic is nothing like the movie, based on all the writers interviews over the last few months. It also was never transferred over to WOWIO. It has always been on that site.

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  6. Andrew Foley says:

    Andrew Foley, one of the two credited co-writers of the first Cowboys & Aliens comic here.

    It’s been years since I did any work for Platinum, and what work I did was on a work-for-hire basis, so anything I’ve been told about any of this stuff is strictly down to company and/or staff courtesy to a one-time freelancer. At this point, as far as I know, Platinum doesn’t legally or contractually owe me anything but royalties if the book ever crosses the sales threshold where covers my advance. So the following are strictly my opinions, based on an admittedly incomplete and potentially flawed picture I’ve constructed of the situation over time.

    I don’t know what happened to C&A on Drunk Duck, or Wowio. I do know of plans to release the book on another digital platform, which I won’t mention because I’m not sure it’s been announced yet. (Incidentally, I didn’t get that last bit from Platinum, but rather the web publisher.) I don’t know if one of the Hollywood parties involved with the movie demanded the webcomic’s removal.

    I can say this: when I contacted Platinum about purchasing additional print copies of the comic beyond my original comps, I was informed that the company didn’t have any, and that a company from the H’wood end of things bought out the entire print backstock. So it’s plausible to me that Platinum would like C&A to be on Drunk Duck and comic and bookstores around the world, but may be contractually prevented from doing so.

    It’s also possible that the maneuvers with webcomic versions of the book is part of an attempt to increase demand for a new print run of the comic from a traditional book publisher, something that appears to be impending. I think the publisher is HarperCollins, but again, don’t quote me. If you really care, a little googling should let you find out who’s doing the new run; I’d heard from the company that there were talks to get a new version out, but hadn’t heard anything from them recently, and happened to stumble upon a listing at Amazon.

    On the shopping of C&A as a movie screenplay for years before it was a comic: as I understand it, that’s not quite how it happened. It’s close, probably close enough to be damning enough for a comics fan, but legally the arrangement (I re-emphasize, as I understand it) is quite a bit more blurry.

    Yes, the property was optioned at least twice before a comic version was complete–before I was ever involved with the property, actually. But the comic was in development for a long time prior to it actually being finished and published. Years at least, possibly more than a decade, depending on what one means by “in development.”

    What was being shopped around and optioned wasn’t a screenplay, but a pre-established intellectual property, albeit one that didn’t have a whole lot in the way of pre-establishment. But it did have some, I gather intended to allow Platinum some legal leeway to own and control the property beyond what would typically be the case if it had been initially built around a screenplay.

    I gather that leeway is going to be challenged by some of the screenwriters who worked on a movie version, and I’ll be interested to see how they fare. What I’ve been told is, all screenwriters were shown the work done towards a comic version of the property (title, key art, outline, whatever the company had) prior to beginning work on the screenplay, and none of the screenwriters were shown previous screenplay versions. I’m no lawyer so take this legal stuff with a pillar of salt, but I believe the idea legally is that Platinum’s position if challenged will be that all screenwriters working on screenplays were creating derivative works based on Platinum’s pre-existing intellectual property, and none of them were creating material based on the unproduced screenplays of previous film writers. As a result, the company will probably contend that the screenwriters speaking out now have no right to credit on a film that is based on a pre-existing property that was written without any influence from previous screenplay versions. The unproduced screenwriters’ position seems to be that, even if Orci/Kurtzman/Lindelof didn’t read their versions, Scott Rosenberg and others at Platinum surely did, and therefore their work did influence the final product and they are due some sort of credit and/or compensation. Not having had direct (or to the best of my knowledge, indirect) access to any of the screenwriters’ work, I have no way to judge who’s right here, and even if I did, outside of my and my Mum, my judgment is worth substantially less than a hill of beans. A hill of beans…luxury. I dream of the day I’ve got my own hill of beans.

    Scott Rosenberg’s biggest success in film prior to C&A was Men In Black. My understanding from the get-go was that Platinum was intended to replicate that model. So, yeah, any comic material, esp. that created in-house like Cowboys & Aliens and Atlantis Rising (as opposed to Hero By Night or the Kiss comics), was to some degree advertising aimed at Hollywood. Personally, I don’t believe the shifts in delivery format for the webcomic represent a dismissal of webcomics in general or the C&A webcomic in particular. If the DD C&A wasn’t pulled at the order of someone on the film end of the equation, my guess would be that the company’s trying to find a way to better monetize the digital version of the comic. Which would suck for readers wanting to read it for free now, and isn’t the way I’d personally handle it, but I don’t have a say and neither do the would-be readers. Such is life.

    Finally, I’ve got to take the bullet for the alien language thing in the webcomic; that one is completely on my head. When I was a kid reading The Micronauts, I used to love decoding the microverse language code, and in C&A I tried to write something that Andrew as a Kid would have liked. I’ve heard that the webcomic pages that had the code language on them got more traffic than those which didn’t, which says…something. My intent was that the story would be followable enough even without understanding the alien dialogue. Sorry it didn’t work for you. It also didn’t work for Scott Rosenberg, who insisted on the translated dialogue appearing in the print version, as well as a number of other changes from the original webcomic version. I’ve no idea whether the online versions have been altered to reflect the printed one or not.

    And that’s about all I can think of to say about that.

    • Clint says:

      Andrew, thanks for stopping by and weighing in. Much appreciated! My original controversy died out just a few days after I posted the blog back in July after I found the WOWIO location… then again I haven’t been back to see if anything’s changed since then, the whole mess was largely out of my head until comicsworthreading pinged my humble rant.

      It sounds like Platinum had C&A in their pocket just like you say, an IP looking for an outlet, so in addition to the film treatments they had some comic book development going from the start as well. No wonder it’s all very murky now that those screenplay authors are piping up for a piece of the pie. Everything I’ve heard still says that the movie is going to have very little to do with the comic you co-wrote, up to names of characters being entirely different (I think they’re renaming Verity to Ella, for instance). And like you say, you yourself were working without much knowledge of previous versions of the material.

      Sounds really complicated, so in my uninformed layman’s opinion I’m going to predict some sort of “cost of doing business” settlement to just make everyone go away so Dreamworks can keep their hoped-for blockbuster rolling.

      Maybe I’ll go back and see if the WOWIO freebie is still there, and if so, what they decided to do about the alien translations. I remember the Micronauts and even those old X-men comics where they’d occasionally have aliens speak in unabashed alienspeak and let you figure it out. I see where you’re coming from with that, since comics are a visual medium where ideally you can get the gist of what’s going on without any words needed (much as that’s humbling to think about when you’re a writer). But in my hazy recollections, I think I remember one occasion where they were talking about the details of how the transmitter dish functioned, and the image itself was just one of them pointing at the dish. Those were moments I quietly grumbled and was having to scroll back and forth to figure out exactly what the big reptilian gentleman was expressing.

      But hey, I’m all for experimenting, especially in a property like that where it was pretty straightforward stuff otherwise. You had a reason for it, and if it didn’t work out for me, I’m sure there’s others who loved it.

      Thanks again for dropping by!

      • Clint says:

        Oh and one other thing, presuming you come ’round again, since you didn’t mention it. Do you have any idea what the situation with C&A II was, or was that a completely independent project from anything you were involved in?

  7. Andrew Foley says:

    Re: C&AII.
    The short version is that I don’t know what happened with the version that was (apparently only partly) published. I never actually read more than a few pages of the sequel.
    The unnecessarily drawn-out version: After Platinum deemed the original C&A a success (by what metric, I’m not entirely sure), I was hired to write a four-issue sequel miniseries, and got through drafts of most of the issues (at least three, I believe all, but I don’t have access to the hard drive I’ve got them stored on right this second) before the project was spiked by the new editor-in-chief Jim McLauchlin.
    I was much, much happier with the second storyline (only natural, as I had much more participation in its building). So it was a bit of a blow to discover it wasn’t going to happen after committing several weeks to what I’d been led to believe was a high-priority book (read as “one that seemed all but certain to be published”) when I’d been given the assignment.
    But there was no point dwelling on it. I got my kill fee and moved on with my life (I believe that was the last work I did for Platinum, actually), focusing on other opportunities and projects (the horror comedy DONE TO DEATH with Eisner-nominated artist Fiona Staples, being the most notable).
    I was later informed (purely as a courtesy, but one I appreciate all the same) that Platinum was planning an online comic sequel to C&A. This version was to have an interesting conceptual twist, though one I felt would have some difficult logistical hurdles to overcome. Basically, the idea was that rather than having one writer working on a single sequel, writers in different geographical locales would tell stories about what happened in the world of C&A, set in the area the writers themselves came from.
    As someone who digs experimentation in comics, that struck me as a really neat idea that might give individual tales a real grounding that could take advantage of different local histories, landmarks, what-have-you.
    As someone who’d edited comics before…well, let’s just say I was overjoyed that I wasn’t going to be editing it. It’s hard enough keeping one team of professional creators on target.
    I don’t know if that plan was actually executed to any degree in the online version of C&AII or whether one of the two EiCs following Jim (Adam Rosenblum and then Arcana’s Sean O’Reilly) opted for a more traditional creative approach. I read a few pages of it and realized that, despite any rationalizations I made to myself or others to the contrary, some tiny part of me was hurt that my version wasn’t going to be used. Continuing to read the project was just going to be picking a scab, so I stopped. And that was the end of my journey with Cowboys & Aliens.
    For awhile, I did read (one of…?) the writer’s livejournal accounts–they seemed much more at home with the whole online community thing than a natural luddite like myself is. Perhaps you could contact them to find out what happened next with C&AII. Now that I know it wasn’t completed–actually, I should rephrase that to “not published”, Platinum’s had at least one graphic novel I wrote for them in the can with all line art and lettering completed, so you never know–I’m kind of curious myself.
    Finally: sorry for the horrific lag time in responding to your question (and with an “I don’t really know” answer, no less). I try to respond promptly in my online communications, but November was interesting in a “may you live in interesting times” kind of way.

  8. Clint says:

    Don’t trouble yourself over the lagtime, especially if November was a Chinese Proverb experience for you. It’s always interesting to hear about just how much creative work is out there that no one may ever see published… I’d call it tragic, but like you say, it’s just something that happens, and you got your kill fee and moved along.

    Also, even though I’ve never done professional editing I completely agree that the C&A II “experiment” would have taken a really exceptional and dedicated person at the helm… I actually don’t think they went through with the multiple “local colorists” idea, though, since what I remember of C&A II was all or mostly set in Washington D.C. Such a project would have been on the scale of something like the Wild Cards books, except with the creative teams all multiplied out beyond just different prose authors for each segment. That’s fairly mind-boggling to contemplate keeping on track. My wife and I have enough trouble keeping track of our own humble efforts, and we live in the same house.

    Anyhow, good to hear from you again, and I hope December is less interesting for your life ;-)

  9. Art Schnabel says:

    I’m just now reading this and wish I had seen it months ago, sorry.

    Regardless of the controversy over who wrote/created the graphic novel, there was a script written years earlier – in 1989 to be precise – that appears to me to be the definite original “source” of a lot of the material. But no one seems to be taking any notice of it.

    I found it on its own Facebook page called Cowboys and Aliens Screenplay (or Script – there are two FB pages). I copied this link from there:


    Right from page one the whole thing is suspicious. The comic takes place in 1873. So does this script. The comic is set in Silver City, AZ. The script is in Silver Fork, NM. Both feature loner type characters with a teenage sidekick, etc., etc.

    I wonder if Dreamworks and Universal know about this?

    • Clint says:

      I’m not really seeing that much resemblance between the script you linked and the comic, although there were supposedly several treatments done. 1873 is just a really common year for Western settings because it’s the year both the Peacemaker revolver and Winchester rifle came into widespread use with self-contained metal cartridges, so it’s got all the hardware people expect, and is also early enough that there’s lots of buffalo and hostile natives and such still around, which is the setting people expect. Plus it’s close enough to the Civil War to take advantage of having lots of vets about with unsettled grudges, while not having them be *too* grizzled.

      As for a town in the Southwest being named “Silver” anything, well, yeah, that’s gonna happen, too. It’s like getting riled because the town over the hill also has a “Main Street” ;-)

      That said, I have no idea what the script for the new movie ended up like. I just know from reading this 1989 piece and reading the comic, they don’t seem to have much in common except the title and some of the concept.

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