Published Sep 01, 2003The pinstripe world of corporately-owned superheroes is about to get shattered by a time-bomb named The Shifter. This sassy superheroine was born in a colossal explosion of energy like many of her copyrighted cousins, but unlike Superman or the Hulk, she belongs wholly to the people.
The Shifter's mysterious Open Source origins can be traced back to a comic book discussion group hosted by hip UK-based webzine Barbelith.com. Community administrator Tom Coates uttered a plea for rights-free characters "that we declare can be used by anyone at any time in any format without there being anyone to give money to."
Ottawa-based artist Steven "Mr. Moriarty" Wintle, one of the first to answer the call, was intrigued and motivated by the idea of a public domain superhero. "I checked around to see what other people were doing," says Wintle, "and I was angered that people claimed to have open source characters, but they had all these strings attached. I'd have an easier time making my own character rather than deal with those fuckers."
Wintle introduced The Shifter, aka Jenny Everywhere, to the Barbelith comic community, inspiring an outburst of collective creative energy. "It wasn't really my intention to force my character onto anyone," Wintle reflects. "I thought someone else would provide a better character and let me off the hook. But she took, and there you go."
Jenny Everywhere exists in multiple dimensions simultaneously, allowing her to appear in limitless adventures without contradiction. "Her powers are really just a McGuffin; quite a few people have penned stories that don't have her using them overtly," explains Wintle. "Many of her characteristics have changed since, and will probably change as time goes on. Anyone can use her for any medium in any way they like, so long as they don't claim ownership over her."
It's the only steadfast rule governing Jenny Everywhere, but there are voluntary guidelines to the character that attempt to bring some sort of consistency to the mix: "She has short, dark hair. She usually wears aviation goggles on top of her head and a scarf around her neck. Otherwise, she dresses in comfortable clothes. She is average size and has a good body image. She has loads of confidence and charisma. She appears to be Asian or Native American. She has a ready smile." Wintle once compared her to a Tintin who listened to Le Tigre and had joined the Fantastic Four.
Today, Wintle maintains an unofficial producer-like role on The Shifter, but he's quick to emphasise the community effort behind the project. "Anyone can make Jenny stuff without even talking to us," Wintle says, pointing out that a pair of UK-based creators is already churning out a Jenny Everywhere zine. "More power to them. In fact, since they've got the most done, I've seen reports that the character is theirs."
Nelson Evergreen, The Shifter's best-known artist, has teamed up with fellow Brits Rob Cave and Joe "Flyboy" Macare to bring a slew of Jenny Everywhere tales to both print and web comic enthusiasts. Evergreen's work is featured on what amounts to the only "official" Jenny site to date, www.jennyeverywhere.com, as well as in a limited print-run comic book available in a handful of London and Brighton shops, but slowly trickling to North America.
"I'll carry on doing this for as long as Joe continues to deliver good script and I can find the time to illustrate them," says Evergreen. "There are several fine scripts currently jostling for attention at the website, and that's just the tip of the ice cube. Jenny won't really come into her own until she has a horde of different incarnations doing the rounds; that's when it's all going to get really interesting."
"People constantly ask me how I could give up a piece of intellectual property so readily," says Jenny creator Wintle. "The truth of it is that she would have been packed away and grown moldy if I hadn't set her free." With a growing number of stories in print and online, The Shifter's momentum is indisputable, blasting away Wintle's initial expectations and opening an Open Source avenue most comic creators hadn't previously considered. Wintle hopes not only to infect the world with Jenny Everywhere enthusiasm but give something back to storytellers that corporate comics can't compete with: A hero by the people, forever for the people.
Interested artists and writers can find simple guidelines, helpful suggestions, and existing Jenny Everywhere comic pages at www.jennyeverywhere.com.