An Ahwatukee native and her fiancé are pioneering a new kind of “digital comic book” that they hope will get a boost by winning an international contest.
Jenn Cooper, who grew up in Lakewood and still lives in Ahwatukee, and her fiancé, Jon Letonek, have developed a 3-D comic strip about a couple named Royce and Fray – a prequel that they plan to eventually lead to a hero comic series in which Fray becomes invested with superhuman powers as the result of an object that comes into her possession.
And they want to animate the comic – something they think they can achieve more readily if they win an online contest sponsored by webtoons.com.
The contest will winnow what Copper called “thousands” of digital comic developers around the world down to eight semifinalists. Eventually, online polling will pick a winner who will receive $80,000 and a job with webtoons. People who want to help Cooper should set up a free account at webtoons.com, then go to Kronokeeper.net and click the “Besties” banner to register.
“There isn’t really a ‘voting,’ Cooper explained. “It works by popularity and judges. The popularity is calculated by views, comic page likes, subscribers to the comic and comments at the bottom of the comic. Viewing the comic is free to all, and likes, commenting and subscribing requires a free webtoons account.”
The contest’s first phase continues only through mid-September.
“Besties” is the name of Cooper’s prequel, telling a serialized story of Fray and Royce and how their relationship deepens.
Cooper, a 2009 Valley Christian High School graduate who met Letonek when they were both earning their degrees at Huntingdon University in Indiana, has had a love for technology and drawing since she was 3.
Her father worked at Intel, so that explains the technology part. As for comics, she said, “I always liked drawing as a kid and I liked cartoons. The two eventually just meshed together.”
By the time she graduated from high school, she knew she wanted to continue both pursuits. Since that was at a time when not many universities or colleges offered digital animation, she chose Huntingdon.
Since returning, she has, she has taught a variety of digital art classes to students from age 12 to college age. Those classes include Maya 3-D modeling, character design, 3-D digital sculpting and illustration, storyboarding and others.
Cooper also has written a 3-D instructional design curriculum for a global education technology company and was responsible for initial start-up, curriculum design, implementation and instruction of a local university’s new digital animation degree.
For “Besties,” she and Letonek have created a “cyber-steampunk” world – a genre of science fiction and fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. Cooper calls the characters’ world “cyber-punky.”
But as ultra-modern as the medium is, the story itself is ages old.
“I really want to dig into what qualities make a strong friendship,” she explained, noting that the story attempts to be both funny and endearing as it follows two people who become best friends and the give-and-take they go through in building a close relationship.
As Jenn’s mother, Bobette Cooper of Lakewood, explained, “As the series progresses, the reader realizes that it is their varied personality traits and background differences that are the catalysts for each to grow and become better people.”
Jenn Cooper said she’s been working on the story for five years, and while “Besties” is not autobiographical, it does draw on situations she’s heard about.
“They say you always write from some of what you know. I write a lot of stories on what happened to me and friends. I’ve had a lot of friends over the years and have listened to the problems they’ve had and have a lot of experience mentoring some of them. So, I just incorporate some of these things when I write their story.”
But this is no ordinary soap opera, as Cooper and her fiancé promise a story “filled with action, mystery, friendship and a small dash of romance.” And, she hopes Fray will evolve into a character who will join the likes of the superheroes that have made Marvel what it is today.
Cooper said she developed “Besties” because she and Letonek realized they had developed a story that was so big and complicated that setting up a prequel made sense.
Developing the comic demanded a lot of up-front work and continuing the story each week requires hours at their computers.
It took about two years to develop the digital assets necessary to make it three-dimensional. In addition, each episode takes about 85 to 125 individually designed panels.
Cooper’s goal is to advance the growth of high-tech 3-D animation in the Valley – as well as to keep enriching a story that she thinks could take years to unfold.
“We have made a lot of concept art in our process of creating Krono Keeper and not all of it is shown or represented here,” she explains on kronokeeper.com.“What you see here is a continuous progression of ideas from very rough beginning stages all the way toward more refined concepts of who these characters are and what they look like. The truth is, they will probably keep changing right up until we build the final version of them in 3D, and even then, we will probably keep making adjustments.”