Your latest webcomics and digital comics news.
Creators: Keep those press releases and other notices coming! I want to know what you’re up to so I can tell others.
# Jmanga is shutting down, according to an urgent notice posted on its website last week. Users can no longer purchase JManga Points to purchase comics. Unredeemed points can still be used until next week. After that, Amazon gift cards will be issued to refund unused points. By the end of May, all content and accounts will be deleted. There is no way for users to retain the digital comics they have purchased.
Jmanga was created from a conglomeration of multiple Japanese manga publishers. It only launched a couple of years ago and while it didn’t release any digital-first manga or comics, it was a noble attempt to bring Japanese comics to English-language readers and combat digital piracy. Brigid Alverson at MTV Geek has a good write-up with more background and info.
Excerpts from the notice summarizing the details:
“As of March 13th 2013 at 11:59pm (US Pacific Time) users are no longer be able to purchase and/or acquire JManga Points through the Monthly Point Plan and Pay-as-you-go Plan on JManga.com. Due to this termination all Monthly Point Plan members’ accounts have been automatically switched to Free Memberships. As such Monthly Point Plan members will not be charged after March 13th 2013 at 11:59pm (US Pacific Time).
“As of March 26th 2013 at 11:59pm (US Pacific Time) users will no longer be able to purchase digital manga content on JManga.com.
“As of May 30th 2013 at 11:59pm (US Pacific Time) users will no longer be able to view digital manga content on JManga.com. At this time all purchased and free digital manga content will be erased from all JManga Member’s accounts.
“All JManga Members will be issued Amazon Gift Cards for use on Amazon.com as a substitute for the amount of unused JManga Paid Points possessed at March 13th 2013 at 11:59pm. Refund Distribution: Amazon Gift Cards will be emailed to applicable users at the email address registered with their JManga account. Amazon Gift Card Distribution Schedule: March 21st 2013 to March 25th 2013 (US Pacific Time).”
# ComiXology servers failed for about two days following the announcement of a mega-sale of 700 free Marvel comic books at the South By Southwest festival last weekend. “We expected a high degree of excitement for the Marvel initiative – and had believed ourselves prepared – but unfortunately we became overwhelmed by the immense response,” reads a blog post by CEO David Steinberger. They will be resuming the sale at a later date and have since resumed their normal service.
I wrote about it more at Robot 6, and within the context of the Jmanga story above, I think it’s even more crucial that digital comics providers give the option of true downloads, while keeping the option of cloud storage, so that their systems aren’t so taxed in the future.
# ComiXology and Marvel Comics made a number of other announcements at SXSW expanding their digital comics programs. Calvin Reid at Publisher’s Weekly has a great wrap-up.
- ComiXology officially launched ComiXology Submit, which allows independent creators to turn their comics and graphic novels into digital comics sold through ComiXology. Revenue is split 50/50 and creators can also sell their comics on other digital distributors. A previous beta testing allowed the service to also launch with a 35 new digital comics, most notably Shannon Wheeler’s Too Much Coffee Man. For more information, check out this interview with CEO David Steinberger from TIME.com’s Techland blog.
- Marvel Comics has expanded and re-branded their subscription-based digital comics service Marvel Unlimited (formerly Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited). Previously only web-based, there are now iPad and iPhone apps with an Andoid app to follow. The $10/month rate gives readers access to over 13,000 comics with more being added each week. I joined the Robot 6 crew in a roundtable on what we thought of Marvel Unlimited.
- Marvel Comics will be launching a weekly series of digital-first comics in their Infinite Comic format this summer. Each serial will run for 13 weeks and feature Marvel’s marquee characters like Wolverine.
- Marvel Comics will be introducing music to some of their digital comics as part of Project: Gamma. The music will be responsive to the reader’s pace, similar to how music shifts to player dynamics in video games. Rolling Stone has a write-up on the announcement.
- Symbolia, the journalism comics magazine for the iPad, is nearing its initial goal of 3,000 subscribers. An Android version is several weeks away. The third issue is coming soon and will be called The Mating Ritual, featuring articles and stories on “sex, relationships and interpersonal encounters.”
# American BOOOM! is a unique super-hero webcomic by writer Patrick Yurick and artist Alonso Nuñez that chronicles the story of Sarah Hannigen, a girl with exploding fists on a mission to avenge her DEA father. He’s believed to be murdered by Mexican cartels, so with the help of her grandfather she takes up the inherited guise of American BOOOM! and moves to San Diego, where she ends up exploring the bi-national world of that city and Tijuana to track down her father’s murderer.
“The use of story as a metaphor/reality is very important to us,” said Yurick. “Everything in this story takes place in real landmarks in San Diego, where we live, and our neighboring city of Tijuana. The characters are based on real interactions and stories. The references to cartels and teenagers are as close to fact as possible. The stuff that isn’t ‘true’ (super powers, plot, character specifics) is at the very least aimed at being palpably meaningful metaphors.”
Columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.
Over the last weekend, Marvel Comics initiated a pretty brilliant idea on the digital comics distribution site comiXology, by giving away 700 of their first issues for free.
Not long after, comiXology crashed. And, at the time of writing this, they’re still trying to get everything up and running again. Which, really, demonstrated just how popular that initiative actually was, despite being a little inconvenient for users of the service — myself included.
Back in the days of yore…
But let’s go back a bit. When I first started reading comics on a regular basis, single issues were still the way to go. In Singapore, at least, you’d find the odd trade paperback here and there, but it wasn’t like it is now. You couldn’t just walk into a bookstore and pick up a collected edition on the cheap.
By necessity, I started with singles, but I stuck with them over the years, because they were familiar. Even when trades started to become more prominent, I kept visiting my comic shops week in and week out to pick up a stack of single issues.
That’s what comics were to me. They were the quick bursts of happy that I need in the middle of the week to keep me going.
Two’s company, several hundred’s a crowd.
I moved into a smaller flat nearly ten years ago and… well, tough decisions had to be made. I say “tough,” but really, it seemed like a pretty sensible thing to do for me.
I’d amassed this mountain of singles that were strewn pretty much everywhere—so, I gave almost all of them away. Mostly to my nephews and niece, when it was superhero fare, but also to a couple of friends usually when it was indie stuff or Vertigo books.
And then, slowly, I re-bought a lot of those in trades. Which, financially, yes, doesn’t make a lick of sense, considering that barely two paragraphs ago, I was talking about doing sensible things. But I liked a lot of those comics that I gave away; I just didn’t have the space to keep them.
Trade paperbacks, however, were much easier to store and, despite containing the same amount of story as their singles, didn’t fill up every empty spot in my room.
A fair trade.
I didn’t make the full switch though, and still bought a couple of single issues every week. Which, again, seems somewhat counter-productive, but I’ve never claimed to be someone who readily applied things like “logic” to his habits.
I just couldn’t. Like I said before, single issues felt familiar. It wasn’t till late last year when I really committed. I’d find issues missing from my reserve list at my regular comic shop, which would be mildly annoying if it happened every once in a while. But after a while, singles were noticeably absent more often. I’m sure it wasn’t the shop’s fault, but it was still vexing nonetheless.
So, I dropped most of them and made an almost complete switch to trades. Now, I say “almost”…
The way of the (comic) world.
… because the thing about the American comics industry is that titles live or die in single issues. And a lot of the books I dig aren’t exactly getting the spotlight or sales they deserve.
And I did just buy a second-hand iPad…
So, comiXology became the way to go for me for those single issues. Do I still visit my comic shop? Yeah. Books like Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips’ horror-noir Fatale, for instance, have fantastic additional material that’s exclusively available in their physical single issues.
But, barring any more insanely popular promotions from Marvel, I think I’ve finally found my balance, when it comes to formats. No, really…
Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, travels way too much, and is currently putting together his very first short story collection. He blogs about his upcoming book, storytelling and other things at http://waynereewrites.tumblr.com.
Here’s your latest webcomics and digital comics news. I was hoping to get this out last week but things got away from me. There were also a lot of big stories I felt deserved coverage but unfortunately that meant I had less time to dig up stories on less high profile comics. Remember, if you’re a creator of such comics, send me your news, press releases, announcements, etc. The internet is a big place so I can’t see everything. I’d be happy to cover your comic.
# Digital comics publisher MonkeyBrain Comics announces their Summer of Print, where they will release print versions of their digital-first comics for the first time. MonkeyBrain and their creators will team up with traditional print publishers Image Comics and IDW Publishing. The super-villain series Edison Rex by Chris Roberson and Dennis Culver will be released by IDW in June. The Depression-era superhero anthology Masks & Mobsters by Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson will be released by the Shadowline imprint of Image in July. And then fantasy series Amelia Cole and the Unknown World by Adam P. Knave, D.J. Kirkbride and Nick Brokenshire will come out in August from IDW. “Print collections have been a main goal from the beginning and it’s really exciting to see such a major piece of the plan fall into place,” Allison Baker says, “especially since it means even more people get to discover the amazing work of our creators!” More collections will be announced in the near future. Wired has a story covering the news and more about MonkeyBrain’s business model and goals.
# Mark Waid spoke at the Tools of Change for Publishing conference recently. His presentation “Reinventing Comics and Graphic Novels for Digital” walked people through the challenges of bringing comics to the digital space, and how his digital-first model on Thrillbent is succeeding. One thing I found interesting is that the sales from collections of 4 weeks of content through ComiXology recoups their production costs. And that’s just one revenue stream they only recently started.
# ComiXology released the first ever digital convention exclusive at the just-concluded Emerald City Comicon this past weekend. According to the press release, con goers were given a special code for a free download of the all-new short story Atomic Robo: Along Came a Tyrantula by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener which will be released this Wednesday. The fancy gif above reveals that the story was made exclusively as a digital experience, using similar techniques used by Thrillbent and Marvel’s Infinite Comics.
Spotlight on… Look Straight Ahead by Elaine M. Will. One of the final recipients of the Xeric Award grant, Will has been serializing her beautiful graphic novel online since last summer before the eventual print release. Look Straight Ahead, which was nominated for a 2011 Joe Shuster Award in it’s original form as a self-published comic book, is a story about a teen boy’s struggle with depression and mental illness. Will herself had suffered from a mental breakdown in 2002. This led her to research mental illness and when she found a lack of coverage in comics, she decided to change that. In addition to the rock solid line work and layout skills, there’s some fantastic imagery that wonderfully visualizes some of the abstract and intangible sensations of mental illness. Check out page 4 from Chapter 1:
In other news
# Kelly Yates launched last week MonstHer, a new all-ages adventure series released as a digital comic at Artist Alley Comics. A 0 issue is free (and is an adorable and awesome tribute to the classic children’s book The Monster at the End of This Book: Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover by Jon Stone and Mike Smollin), and issue #1 is only $0.99. The series is about Eva Monst who helps her father run a halfway house for monsters who were once humans. Yates is probably best known for his other creator-owned sci-fi adventure series, Amber Atoms, which started life in print at Image Comics and now also lives at Artist Alley Comics.
Artist Alley Comics is unique from other digital comics distributors in that they let you download a PDF file that you can keep, instead of leasing you a digital file stored by them. They’re still formatted like print comics, so they read best on tablets like iPads, even though they don’t have an app yet (and their website’s navigation isn’t the best despite a nice and clean look). But the low price ($0.99 instead of $2.99-$3.99) and a true purchase are where digital comics should be. They also put the focus on the creators, which always wins points with us (one of their taglines is “creator-driven digital comics”). They have digital comics by Craig Rousseau, Todd Dezago, Jason Copland, and other quality creators.
# Warren Ellis and Jason Howard launched a unique web-comic last week. Borrowing from daily newspaper comic strips, Scatterlands is being released Mondays through Fridays but only one panel at a time. The comic is fully improvised, so while it sounds like some rough mapping out might’ve been done (it’s probably going to be a sci-fi tale), there’s no telling where it will go. Every four or five weeks, they’ll take a brief break and release a digest collection but haven’t quite worked out the details on that yet. Watch WarrenEllis.com for future installments.
# Friday saw the release of the first episode of Strip Search, the reality game show by the Penny Arcade gang looking for America’s next top webcomic maker. The full episode is above. We meet the contestants as they arrive at the house where they’ll be competing against each other. I’m still kind of torn about this whole thing. I’m not a fan of reality shows like this and was hoping for a bit more Penny Arcade-style humor. They also apparently had some technical problems. Their host’s mic must’ve died because his audio was clearly re-recorded at a later date and awkwardly dubbed in. But it’s cool to see comics get this kind of mass appeal attention. I know that Hollywood has been trying to get a show like this made for years and I’m glad it came from comics people. I’m also already rooting for a few contestants, so they must be doing something right. Future episodes will go up every Tuesday and Friday.
# Chris Onstad wants to bring his award-winning webcomic Achewood to animation. A teaser trailer is above and once again Wired covers the story. Unlike the Cyanide & Happiness crew, Onstad is not yet burnt out from trying to deal with Hollywood and keep his creative freedom. In fact, according to this blog post, he’s just started trying to work out a deal with a studio or network, although he has a promising partner in producer Josh Lieb, formerly of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Simpsons. While it’s a shame he seems to be done making comics, best of luck to him.
# iVerse Media, which runs the Comics+ app and web store for digital comics, last Wednesday announced a partnership with Archaia Entertaiment, publishers of comics and graphic novels such as Mouse Guard, Return of the Dapper Men and Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand. Archaia has been releasing a number of their comics digitally first in their partnership with ComiXology and I would imagine (and hope) they’ll do the same through Comics+. Perhaps most notable is that the partnership will benefit iVerse’s ComicsPlus: Library Edition, which provides digital comics to libraries.
# Webcomic Creators Google+ community is a great way for creators to talk shop with others.
Next weekend, the 25th WonderCon, a comic book convention traditionally held in the San Francisco area since 1987, will be hosted in Anaheim, a city in Orange County just south of Los Angeles. For those that have always wanted to go to San Diego Comic-Con, North America’s largest comic book convention, this is your chance to get to a more accessible and manageable version of that show. No 3-hour drive, no instantly sold-out tickets, and just a generally easier vibe. Both shows are owned and run by the same company, so format-wise, you’re basically getting the next best thing with less stress. Registration is still available, and unlike with Comic-Con, onsite registration will be possible, meaning you can decide to go that day and drive on down.
So what can we expect to see at WonderCon? The programming schedule for Friday, Saturday and Sunday have been posted, and there is plenty to do whether you’re new to comics or a longtime fan. Or explore the floor.
Here are some recommended highlights from the program:
2:00-3:00 Quick Draw! — It’s another battle to the death with Sharpies at twenty paces! Three of the fastest cartoonists alive draw and duel in what is always a standing-room-only event at Comic-Con in San Diego. This time, we have Scott Shaw! (The Simpsons), Disney legend Floyd Norman, and a player to be named later, all sketching like mad on the command of Mark Evanier. If you’ve never seen one of these, you need to experience it! Room 204
3:30-4:30 comiXology Open Discussion: Everything Digital! — Digital comics are the hottest topic and fastest-growing segment of the comic industry — with comic fans, retailers, and publishers embracing this new distribution and retail model. From self-publishing to same-day-as-print sales, digital retailer storefronts, and more, comiXology is the undisputed leader in this, the digital charge. Join CEO and co-founder of comiXology David Steinberger along with guest panelists for an open discussion on everything digital. All topics are game! Room 203
5:30-6:30 CBLDF: History of Comic Censorship — Learn the shocking history of comics censorship and how even today comics and the people who make, sell, and read them are still threatened. Comic Book Legal Defense Fund executive director Charles Brownstein tells the sordid tale, from the public book burnings and Senate hearings that led to the Comics Code Authority in the 1950s through the attacks on retailers in the 1980s, artists in the 1990s, and readers today that the CBLDF is working to combat! Room 211
11:00-12:00 Womanthology — Get the story behind the hottest Kickstarter project of the year, a graphic novel produced entirely by the top women in the industry! Over 200 creators combined to create Womanthology, and all profits go to the charities of GlobalGiving.org! Project mastermind Renae De Liz and a host of surprise creators offer sneak peeks, inside tips on how to break into comics, and more! Room 213
12:30-2:00 CBLDF Live Art Jam — Witness amazing live art created before your eyes by the industry’s greatest superstars! WonderCon special guests Jim Lee, Rebekah Isaacs, and Eric Powell plus special surprise guests will make original art on the big screen, giving you a one-of-a-kind glimpse of their creative process, and then a chance to bid to take their work home. The proceeds of this auction benefit Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, who protect the industry’s First Amendment rights. Stop by the CBLDF booth (417) for your bidder number, then come watch great art happen before your eyes at the CBLDF Live Art Jam! Room 203
3:00-4:00 Kids Can Draw Cartoons with Kristian Sather — Hey kids! Kristian Sather (Bonkers, Jetsons, kristiansather.blogspot.com) will demonstrate the techniques used in drawing funny cartoon characters. You will learn how to draw your own funny cartoon characters using basic geometric shapes. Join Kristian for this fun & informative session! Room 210
8:30-11:00 WonderCon Masquerade — It’s Saturday night’s big event! Join the crowd and be enthralled with the parade of costumes and characters across the big WonderCon main stage. Ballroom, Third Level
11:30-1:00 Secret Origin of Good Readers — Talking comic books, why we need them in our classrooms and libraries, and how to use them with Bill Morrison (The Simpsons, Bongo Comics), Steve Rotterdam (Bonfire Agency), Nancy Silberkleit (anti-bullying and literacy advocate), David Rojas (education consultant), and Mimi Cruz (Night Flight Comics). An overview of the comic book medium will include helping educators and librarians navigate the wonderful world of comic books, highlighting specific ways comic books and graphic novels can be used to engage a variety of learners while promoting reading and literacy. Educator comic book packages will be provided for attendees on a limited basis (or until supplies last) at the conclusion of this presentation. Free online 70-page The Secret Origin of Good Readers companion resource book [PDF] and other exciting materials at www.night-flight.com/secretorigin courtesy of XMission.com. Room 203
2:00-3:00 Stump Mark Waid — Superstar comics writer Mark Waid (Daredevil, Irredeemable, Kingdom Come, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and more) is joined by Jonah Weiland of ComicBookResources.com in a contest of wits! Drawing on questions submitted by CBR readers, and throwing in some of his own, Weiland will desperately try to “Stump Mark Waid” on a variety of comics trivia. Will the comics Internet prevail or will Mark Waid stand triumphant? Show up and find out! Room 203
3:00-4:00 Comics for Kids — Despite the fact that most of us fell in love with the comics medium when we were children, good comics for kids seem few and far between…or are they? Join moderator and APE Entertainment editor Aaron Sparrow, artist James Silvani (Darkwing Duck, Richie Rich), artist Amy Mebberson (The Muppet Show, Strawberry Shortcake, Toy Story), Shane Houghton (Reed Gunther, Casper Scare School), Archaia editor Paul Morrissey, Beanworld creator Larry Marder and more for a lively discussion on kids comics, their place in the industry, and how to break into the business! As a bonus, children attending the panel will be eligible to win comic books and sketches the artists will draw during the panel! Room 203
Last month, IDW Publishing begun releasing a new comic book series that will initially only be available through digital/mobile outlets such as IDW’s dedicated comics apps on various devices and comiXology‘s suite of readers for the iPhone, iPad, Android and web. This is not the first time a comics publisher is bypassing the print market, which still provides the vast majority of sales for most comics publishers despite rapid growth in the still-new digital space. However, it is probably one of the bigger marketing pushes behind such a move, and certainly the first in a year where it is expected to become more common.
The comic is Transformers: Autocracy, part of IDW’s licensed material based on the popular Transformers toys owned by Hasbro. (The Transformers characters were originally developed by Marvel Comics in the early 1980s.) Based on PR and the ads at the end of the issue, it’s clear that the comic serves as a promotional tool for two new Transformers books that are getting released simultaneously in print and digital, which is a smart move. Each issue of Transformers: Autocracy is 8 pages, priced at $0.99, and released every two weeks for 12 installments.
This is a great idea – a recognizable brand bringing in readers digitally, and potentially driving them to comics stores to buy more in print. Being a lapsed Transformers fan myself (the Marvel series from the ’80s got me into comics), this seemed like a perfect test to see if this kind of marketing strategy could pull me back in.
So with that, my thoughts on what I think worked and didn’t work about this digital exclusive comic/promotional tool. Keep in mind this isn’t a review, but a look at how the entire package and contents work together to encourage new readers. If you are already reading IDW’s Transformers comics and/or know Transformers backwards and forwards, the comic succeeds just by existing. The idea is: can digital exclusive comics work as a promotional tool to bring in new, casual or lapsed readers?
My initial thought was that 8 pages seems a little meager for $0.99, when you can get full 22-page issues for that same price or just a dollar more. But it’s bi-weekly, and Apple won’t let them deviate from having a price end with -.99 for whatever silly reason. So, that’s what we get.
Is it worth it? Do I want to read more? I fired up my Comics by comiXology app on my iPad to find out.
The cover, seen above on the iPad inset, is a striking red image featuring what basically looks like Optimus Prime. He’s the big red truck that turns into the good guys’ leader. He’s got to be the franchise’s most popular and instantly recognizable character, thanks to the cartoons and movies, so smart choice. Here’s part of the blurb you read when buying the issue:
Long ago, on the planet Cybertron… as dissident Decepticons rise up to battle the Autobot leadership, ORION PAX leads a counter-terror strike team. But when a routine mission goes awry, Orion starts on an incredible journey to the heart of Cybertron’s Autocracy.
Wait, who is Orion Pax? What happened to Big Red Truck Guy?
Here’s misstep #1.
If you only know the big Robots in Disguise from the current Transformers movies by Michael Bay, you would have no idea why everyone in this story keeps calling this Optimus Prime-looking robot Orion Pax. Considering that there are a number of Transformers movie tie-in comics available on IDW’s digital providers (I count at least 8 comics series that are either prequels or direct adaptations of the Michael Bay movies) and the high profile of these movies (currently the 7th highest grossing film series ever!) there’s a distinct possibility some people checking this out only know these characters from those movies. I myself, not a fan of the Michael Bay movies, still had to take a moment to remember one episode of the almost 100 episodes from the ’80s cartoon series where a flashback reveals Optimus Prime was originally Orion Pax before he became the leader of the Autobots. This bit of Transformers lore has also come up in the current Transformers: Prime animated series on The Hub cable network. Maybe they want to leave that as a story surprise later on, but I think if your point as a promotional tool is to get people to read about the big red robot on the front cover, you might as well make it clear that, yes, it really is the big red robot you think it is even though his name is different. And when there’s a recurring problem of not being able to tell characters apart, best to play it safe and make it real clear as frequently as possible. This could’ve easily been solved with a little blurb running down the cast of characters on the credits page before the story starts.
Otherwise, a story about the very early days of the civil war on Cybertron? Sounds good. On with the story. Here’s panel one:
Right away we’re hit with a memo that we should be reading something else first.
That little asterisk and white box are like a big stop sign to casual readers. Sure, some will ignore that little note to “See Transformers Vol. 5: Chaos Theory”, or maybe they’ll look into it later. It’s not necessarily a deal breaker. But for the merely curious who think they’re starting at the beginning of a story, or enough of a beginning to pick things up as they go, why interrupt the story with a note to go do something else? Why put any stumbling block between yourself and a potentially new regular reader?
A search on comiXology of the terms “Transformers” “Chaos” and “Theory” pulls up nothing. A Google search pulls up an Amazon listing with no product description of what issues might be in this story, if I wanted to go search for them individually on comiXology. I suppose I could buy the print version so that I could read the digital version at a later date, which seems like the most backwards use of the internet and online marketing ever. I see a 2-part Chaos Theory story covered on the Transformers Wiki. I assume this is what’s being referenced? If so, this helps somewhat. But do I just need those two issues, or is there more, such as the story right after it, simply titled Chaos? I suppose I could just read a bunch of Wiki entries. But if that’s how we’re going to do it, why even bother buying comics at all? Just wait for Wikipedia to get updated and read dry synopses. Sounds awesome. So now I’ve spent 15 minutes not reading the comic I just bought that’s supposed to get me excited about Transformers again. This seems to me to be a huge failure in the understanding of using digital as a promotional tool. Unless it’s promoting my Googling skills, in which case, success!
So whatever, I’ll ignore it and hope I don’t run into anymore hurdles.
Despite some slightly muddied character blocking in an early driving scene, and an outright mistake of which characters go with who when the team splits up, the rest plays out well enough. The Autobots (usually the good guys) end up feeling like the 1%, and the Decepticons and unaffiliated robots the 99% and/or rebellious freedom fighters (or domestic terrorists, if you prefer). Having the good guys start out as the oppressive force may seem a little disjointed to more casual readers, but considering the sub-title of the series, that’s probably the intent and something that will be explored and played out over the remaining chapters. There’s also some drama with Orion Pax being a little too hardcore in bringing down the bad guys, and altruistic yellow Bumblebee talking him down (left). Despite the early confusion, it was good to see some familiar characters. The art was moody and stylized, probably more so than one would expect for a comic about alien robot toys, and while the political thriller element and related drama might be heavy-handed, it’s an interesting angle. Younger readers may find the art too messy, dark or unclear, but the emotional crux should play out.
The last three pages of the issue are ads. There’s one page each to promote the two new series, Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye and Transformers: Robots in Disguise, each getting a good blurb to explain how the two are unique. The only problem? No release dates. No real information about when and where to find them or how to find out more beyond the website IDWPublishing.com. Not even something like “January 2012″. And then the last page is a catch-all ad encouraging readers to buy some random assortment of Transformers graphic novels at their local comic shop. The Comic Shop Locator phone number and web-site are included. It would be great if comiXology could find a way to make websites clickable links within the comics, since we’re on the internet and all.
So did it work on me? In the end, I’ve decided it’s not quite done well enough for only 8 pages at $0.99. But one of the Transformers series sounds like fun, and I’ll keep an eye on comiXology to see when it’s released digitally. I’ll probably wait for a $0.99 sale but might splurge if the issues are $1.99 per issue (but then I’m kind of cheap and might be a bad barometer).
So I guess it mildly worked considering some of the problems. I applaud IDW and other comics publishers who use this strategy. I think it’s a great idea and can really give people discovering comics through digital something to get excited about. But simply doing it isn’t enough. As with everything, execution is key. If it’s not thought through from the newcomers’ perspective or the casual reader’s perspective, it’s not really a promotional initiative. It’s just something else for your pre-existing readers to maybe buy. I would hope at this point in the game, we’re all trying to reach a little further than that.
Transformers: Autocracy #1 was written by Chris Metzen of video game developer Blizzard Entertainment and animation/video game screenwriter Flint Dille, and illustrated by concept artist Livio Ramondelli.
While comic book stores were struggling (and in some cases closing) through much of 2011, the other major distribution outlet for comic books and graphic novels also faced a tough time. Book stores became a major outlet in the 2000s, primarily due to the manga explosion that brought a whole new audience back to sequential art in the United States. But with the dominance of Amazon.com and the rise of digital e-readers, book stores were forced to evolve. Unfortunately Borders, the second largest US book store chain and the first to usher in manga to American readers, failed to do so in time and went into bankruptcy this year and caused a ripple effect throughout the comics industry.
For some comics publishers, the effect was minimal, as previous payment issues with Borders caused some to shift their business away from them before the bankruptcy was announced. But others felt it more strongly, such as Los Angeles-based Tokyopop, the second largest manga publisher in the United States. In the beginning of the year, Borders stopped paying its vendors in an effort to avoid bankruptcy. This resulted in orders getting cut, and with Borders being Tokyopop’s largest customer account, income was severely damaged. Layoffs at Tokypop followed. Despite the late-entry hit manga Hetalia: Axis Powers, it couldn’t reverse the damage of a closing Borders, online piracy (and a digital strategy that amounted to too little too late), and the under-performing Priest feature film. By May, Tokyopop was holding a garage sale to empty out their LA offices. With their termination of US publishing, licenses were canceled, leaving a good number of manga series unfinished. It’s difficult to know how many casual readers of those series drifted away from reading manga and comics entirely after their favorite manga simply stopped coming out. In October, Tokyopop founder Stu Levy revealed that he is “continuing to explore any and all opportunities to relaunch the manga publishing operations” but it will require him having to renegotiate contracts with Japanese publishers. In the meantime, Tokyopop remains as a modest web-newsletter about Asian pop culture, in a partnership with GeekChicDaily.
It was clear that another distribution outlet was needed, and fortunately one has been steadily growing over the last two years. Digital comics allow people to read print comics and manga on the web or mobile devices such as the iPad, iPhone, Android phones and tablets, Kindle and Nook. Companies have been popping up to provide publishers with the service of configuring their comics to the digital landscape and selling them on these devices. The digital distributor ComiXology has pulled ahead as the clear industry leader, with an exclusive partnership with DC Comics and partnerships with almost every other major comics publisher and many smaller ones too. Other prominent digital distributors are Graphicly, with their focus on community-building, and iVerse Media’s Comics+. Some publishers have chosen to build their own in-house digital distribution systems, such as Dark Horse Digital and Viz Manga. Some publishers are even shifting entirely to digital or publishing digitally first, mimicking the successful web-comics model of building an audience to support print releases.
Most significant in 2011 is the near industry-wide move by comics and manga publishers to ramp up their digital output. This was most notable in numerous announcements by publishers to release digital and print versions simultaneously (frequently called “day-and-date”). Prior to this, digital comics were released erratically, sometimes as far out as 6 months after the print version, seriously undermining the ability of digital to be taken as a serious method for consumers to become engaged in specific titles. The brand new Kindle Fire tablet/e-reader, which had huge sales for the holidays, has available an exclusive set of 100 DC Comics graphic novels, along with a free, pre-loaded Comics by ComiXology app.
Before a lot of these digital announcements were made (and when most digital comics were only available through the iPad and iPhone), digital comics were showing significant growth as sales doubled for the first half of 2011. Prior to that, digital comics sales were estimated at $6 to $8 million for 2010. Print sales for the North American comic book industry were estimated at under $420 million for 2010. While still only a fraction of print, digital is still extremely young with immense potential to reach new and lapsed readers.
While still a fraction of print sales, digital comics continue to grow. (Digital comics being comic books you read on the web and mobile devices like the iPad and Android phones.) Great news, right? I’m a big believer in digital comics. But it’s not so easy to know exactly how much they’re growing or whether everyone’s just really excited about a lot of unsubstantiated press release hype.
Within a week of each other, the largest comic book publishers in North America both claimed that sales of one of their digital comics surpassed their own records for digital sales. In both instances, the record-setting digital comic was released on the same day as its print counterpart was released in comic book stores. DC Comics announced in this interview with Salon the good sales news for Justice League #1 by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, the launch title for their ambitious and highly publicized New 52 initiative.
Jim Lee: [B]ased on recent numbers, certainly Justice League No. 1 has surpassed the recent highs in comics sales. [...] It’s also setting records digitally. I can’t give numbers, but on the first day it set a record for us.
Salon: Once you compared the volume of DC’s digital comics sales to dental floss. Is it up to dental tape now?
Jim Lee: It’s too early to say.
Marvel Comics later issued a press release for their announcement regarding Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli, where the webbed adventures begin for the half-black/half-Latino Miles Morales.
The trick? Neither publisher actually revealed any concrete sales data.
This has caused a bit of consternation among comics industry watchers, who are trying to understand the actual strength of digital comics and sales of comics in general. As The Comics Reporter‘s Tom Spurgeon wonderfully puts it, sales figures are usually only hinted at or used for hype by publishers like DC and Marvel, resulting in the “I have a girlfriend in Canada” of sales analysis.
Looking outside of comics, most entertainment companies don’t share honest sales numbers because they consider that proprietary information, but those other industries have something comics doesn’t have – a third party tracking sales through reasonably objective means. Put bluntly, comics needs a Nielsen. The best we have are the sales estimates put together by ICv2, John Jackson Miller’s The Comics Chronicles, and a few others. These are best guess estimates based off charts provided by the largest distributor of comic books, Diamond Comics. But they’re only counting comic book stores in North America. There’s little to no coverage of book stores, no coverage of subscriptions, no sales to libraries and schools, nothing from the UK and other countries, no newsstand sales (meager but still out there), no sales from other outlets like grocery stores. To be sure, North American comic book stores are the dominant sales channel for print comic books. But it’s not the entire picture. What’s more, the sales estimates are determined by using Diamond’s odd index numbering system constructed around everything’s relative sales to that month’s issue of Batman. So if you figure out the sales of Batman in any given month, you can figure out the sales of everything else in that same month. Why Batman of all things? It’s mostly arbitrary but its sales have been historically pretty stable due to the character’s popularity and longevity of the series. On top of all that, the numbers only reflect what comic book stores are ordering. We have almost no idea about sell-through to actual paying customers beyond anecdotal reporting and the assumption that most stores are ordering month-to-month close to what they think they can sell. Needless to say, the accuracy of these estimates has been disputed and called into question. Some say it gives a fairly reasonable picture and is better than nothing, which is true. But numerous comic book creators have gone on record to say that the estimates are wrong when compared to their royalty vouchers and other internal accounting statements.
So we’ve got an entire industry more or less groping in the dark trying to feel out the shape and size of their own business. But it’s the best we’ve got, so numbers are put under the microscope. At least there’s something for print comics. Digital comics have vague statements of modest to booming success. ICv2 estimated earlier this summer that digital comics sales are generating between $6 to $18 million a year, with sales doubling from 2009 to 2010. Archie Comics boasted nearly 2 million downloads back in January. ComiXology, the undisputed largest digital comics provider, trumpeted surpassing 1 million downloads at the end of 2010, and their main Comics app was recently the second grossing iPad app, outselling the popular app for the Angry Birds game. IDW Publishing announced over 1 million downloads of their various digital comics apps back in April. Plenty of similar announcements have been made. It’s great news because it confirms that there are a lot of people interested in comic books. But how many of those downloads generated money. It’s free to download almost all digital comics apps, and there are plenty of free comic books available to download within each app. How many of those millions are paying?
What we do know is that digital comics is one of the biggest growth sectors for comics. The independent comics publisher SLG Publishing recently announced they were switching to digital first distribution. The transition will see the end of print comic books from the publisher. Issues will instead be released only as digital comic books that will eventually be collected and released for the first time in the physical world as print graphic novels. While several publishers have abandoned the single issue comic book format to strictly graphic novels, this is the first significant comics publisher to transition their serialized stories to the digital space. SLG was among the first publishers to embrace digital. They are one of the few that allow full ownership of their digital comics through their Eyemelt store, which sells .pdf, .ePub and .cbz that can be used anywhere. (ComiXology and other digital comics providers are technically leasing you the right to view images of comics files, which can be and have been taken away or locked.) SLG comics are also available on iBooks, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, ComiXology, iVerse’s Comics+, Graphicly, and Panelfly.
According to SLG publisher Dan Vado, much of the company’s marketing has not been focused on digital, so their sales there have been promising but not exceptional. In fact, in a surprising break from the above trend, Vado was willing to make public some of the company’s digital comics sales figures.
The best selling downloadable comic we have had is The Griffin #2 at around 200. This is like a 20 year old comic I did for DC Comics.
Most of the other books have struggled to get to triple digits.
How does that one digital comic stack up against the digital sales of Justice League #1 and Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1? I’d like to believe there’s a significant difference but who can tell? For whatever it’s worth, Justice League #1 has 318 reviews on ComiXology, while Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1 only has 58, at the time I’m writing this. Not everyone that buys and reads a digital comic will submit a review of whether it was a 5-star comic but that seems like a bare minimum at least. Except that anyone can leave a review whether they’ve read the comic or not, as long as they’ve logged in.
As The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald points out in the above link, SLG’s most popular and well known property is probably Johnny the Homicidal Maniac by Jhonen Vasquez and that will be released digitally next year. Vado expects that to be their top digital seller very quickly, especially since they will have ramped up their marketing efforts focused on new readers instead of readers that already own the print version. If Vado continues to be as transparent, SLG could be a very interesting case study of a publisher transitioning to digital. And in the process, he could give us a better idea of the actual strength and success of digital.
IDW Publishing made headway into semi-uncharted digital territory with their launch on Apple’s ebooks platform iBooks last week. The iBooks app comes preloaded on all Apple iPad tablets. With an estimated 20 million iPads sold, that makes for a significant potential readership.
IDW released nearly 20 graphic novels to the iBookstore, including the simultaneous print/digital release of Code Word: Geronimo, which details the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound by SEAL Team 6 as written by military insider Captain Dale Dye. Other graphic novels now on iBooks include IDW’s reprinting project of every Bloom County comic strip, and graphic novels based on True Blood, Star Trek, Transformers, G.I. Joe, and more. The San Diego-based publisher will continue to expand their catalogue in the coming weeks and months.
In addition to expanding comics into yet another digital marketplace, it’s also interesting to note that IDW has chosen to release graphic novels instead of single issues on iBooks. While ComiXology and other digital comics apps and services used by IDW and other comics publishers like Marvel Comics and DC Comics offer graphic novels, much of the focus is on shorter comic books, similar to most brick and mortar comic book stores. But with iBooks readers already expecting a book-length read, it’s smart to go for the longer form of graphic novels.
Currently Code Word: Geronimo is included in the iBooks store front under New & Notable, along with Jane Lynch’s Happy Accidents, Roger Ebert’s Life Itself and Michael Moore’s Here Comes Trouble. In fact, as of this writing, both Moore’s book and Geronimo have the same number of reviews, with the graphic novel rating slightly higher. Graphic novels appearing right beside prose books can be a powerful bit of messaging that comics are just as worthy a form of expression and literature as novels.
Of course, not everyone will receive that message. One of the two reviews is by a hoodwinked MikSud:
This is a comic. I thought it was a real story and account of what took place during the raid of Bin Laden. Utterly disappointed.
Maybe one day comics will be able to tell “real stories”. If they act nicely and don’t get too uppity.
Despite MikSud’s protests, more integration of graphic novels and prose novels in the digital space is bound to happen with the anticipated release of the first color Kindle, expected for a late November release. If comics publishers are smart, they will jump all over this with the deep Amazon and Android integration that could reach a lot of readers.
Little Island Comics has opened in Toronto, Ontario, and it may be the world’s first comic book store specifically targeted to children. It quietly opened this week, with a more formal grand opening planned in the near future. The store is run by The Beguiling, an acclaimed comic book store in Toronto that has been open for 25 years now.
What a smart move!
Comic books needs kids, and fortunately more educators and parents than ever have been realizing that comics are a great reading and education tool for kids. But as you might’ve noticed, some of the material isn’t exactly appropriate for younger readers. Having a store exclusively dedicated to reaching this specific demographic, parents have a peace of mind that only the right material will reach their kids’ hands. And with workshops and other events planned for the store, it should build a wonderful community that encourages kids’ creativity and imagination.
It’s also great for a retailer to get so specific and specialized. With the digital side of comics growing, stores will have to find a good reason for customers to stop by beyond them carrying as much as everything that they can fit between their walls. Because there’s no competing with Amazon.com‘s warehouses or comiXology‘s ever-deepening library. So, survival will depend on the ability to engage customers and the larger community in specialized retailing like children’s comics. Or maybe literary and art comics, and mini-comics. A unique experience will be more important and more valuable than simply having every volume of Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America.
Meltdown Comics in Los Angeles has done a great job at this. It helps that they have a massive space to work with, which gives them a much larger selection. But they also have international comics and mini-comics and more experimental material. And most of all, they’ve become a destination for events. Stand-up comedians regularly perform there now. Popular podcasts regularly do live broadcasts from the store. An art gallery in the back displays comics art exhibits of varying themes. Workshops are held there. Every week, there are a large number of events being held there. Meltdown Comics is a venue as well as a store. They are a physical destination that gives patrons more than any online shopping can give. Other stores in Los Angeles have similarly transformed themselves but none on the scale and success as Meltdown.
I’m hoping Little Island Comics has just as much success, and helps strengthen the children’s comics market.
Full press release after the jump. Read the rest of this entry