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.
Welcome to our first installment of Pixel Pages covering webcomics news. We’ll be learning as we go (read more here) so feedback is welcome (email, Facebook, Twitter). No doubt this will be an evolving beast. First, playing some catch-up from earlier in the month of February:
# “Stick with print, folks” says the fictional Zonker in a February 2nd installment of Doonesbury by Garry Trudeau, in a quick break from the then current storyline. Naturally, it quickly prompting irreverent Photoshopped responses from webcomics creators and fans, some collected here by Adam Manley. An editor’s note was added to Doonesbury’s Blowback site at Slate to address some of the blow back:
Editor’s Note: Sometimes things really are what they seem. I checked with the home office, and the strip is nothing more than a simple gag about the state of newspapers. It was intended for the readers of the 1,100 daily and Sunday print editions that publish the strip. While understandably sentimental about his roots in print media, GBT was an enthusiastic, early adapter to digital platforms, creating three different CD-ROMS (1995), a web-based motion-capture video project (Duke2000), a milblog (2006), e-book editions of his anthologies, and of course, this website, launched in 1995, long before most webcomics were created. He first wrote about the social impact of computers, a favorite topic, in 1972.
# Hackers took down the main servers of Blind Ferret Entertainment, which provides hosting for a number of popular webcomics, reports Fleen. Local archives were also lost which meant that years upon years of work were potentially gone unless the strips had their own backups. Some webcomics were down for a week. Blind Ferret worked hard to restore most files but each strip seemed to have certain holes to fill in. It looks like most have been able to recover almost everything. R.K. Milholland was going page-by-page to restore broken links and other oddities on Something Positive. Danielle Corsetto of Girls with Slingshots received some help in recovering her hover text thanks to Bernie Hou of Comic Chameleon, which will be carrying her strip when the app launches. Ryan Sohmer and Lar deSouza’s Least I Could Do, which is celebrating its 10th year anniversary this month, lost their forum and had to postpone the annual Valentine’s Day contest but otherwise seems to have made out OK. Goblins by Tarol Hunt and Danielle Stephens also lost their forum, although their fans created a temporary substitute.
# The Slate Book Review and the Center for Cartoon Studies announced the nominees for the first Cartoonist Studio Prize. Winners will be announced on March 1st, with the winner in each category, one for webcomics and one for graphic novels, getting $1,000. Nominees were chosen by guest judge Françoise Mouly (art editor of The New Yorker and publisher/editorial director of TOON Books), Slate Book Review editor Dan Kois, and the faculty and students of the Center for Cartoon Studies. The nominees in the webcomics category:
- Ryan Andrews, Sarah and the Seed
- Gabrielle Bell, Lucky
- Boulet, Bouletcorp
- Vince Dorse, Untold Tales of Bigfoot
- Patrick Farley, The First Word
- Dakota McFadzean, The Dailies
- Randall Munroe, xkcd
- Winston Rowntree, Subnormality
- Noelle Stevenson, Nimona
- Jillian Tamaki, SuperMutant Magic Academy
# Chromatic Press is launching this summer with Sparkler Monthly, an online multimedia magazine that will include serialized comics, prose and audio dramas targeted for girls and women aged 15-30. The format is based on digital manga magazines in Japan. MTV Geek has an interview with editors Lianne Sentar, Lillian Diaz-Przybyl, Rebecca Scoble, and Jill Astley, all of whom have impressive experience with manga. One of the launch titles is Jen Lee Quick’s Off*Beat, which was originally published by the pre-bankrupt TOKYOPOP.
Spotlight on… Little Guardians by Ed Cho and Lee Cherolis is an all ages-friendly fantasy adventure epic about two kids trying to follow in their families’ footsteps. One family has been protecting the village from demons and spirits for generations and the other runs the local item shop. It’s about family, obligation, and kicking demons where it hurts. Mix in switched at birth, demonic cults, and battle-Ukulele. There are currently three chapters complete and the fourth one is being released now. Check it out!
In Other News
# Are webcomic artists subway musicians? Steve Ogden and Tom Dell’Aringa at Webcomic Alliance make the argument.
# Gwen Singley reveals the history, development, and design sketches of Saralactra, a significant character (and possibly villain) in the next 100 pages of The Wayward Queen.
# Les McClaine previews 32 Exposures with some lovely and effective animation (without devolving into a motion comic).
# Ashley Davis just finished Chapter 3 of Jailbird, which will go on hiatus for a month; good opportunity to dig into the archives if you haven’t read it.
# Candace Sapach has relaunched Joules on Tumblr: “An incredibly important story told by an incredibly quirky man, starring himself and his two incredibly odd friends during two incredibly horrid wars.”
# Comic Rocket February Meet-Up will be this Thursday, February 21, 6-9 PM, at McMenamins on Broadway in Portland, Oregon. Step away from the drafting table/monitor and join fellow creators for a few hours of conversation. Bring business cards, sketchbooks, whatever and chat with other local webcomickers and Comic Rocket’s creators.
# Webcomic Creators Google+ community is a great way for creators to talk shop with others.
Send your press releases, announcements, news tips, comments, etc.
A few weeks back, Sean Kleefield wondered why his fellow comics news writers don’t cover webcomics better. And all I could think was… guilty as charged. So, challenge accepted.
I don’t really consider myself a journalist (despite the flack comics journalism sometimes gets [not all unjustified], there are some honest-to-gosh certified journalists working at the big sites like CBR) but sometimes I can pull off something passably acceptable for entertainment journalism from an independent blog. So that’s what I will endeavor to do here in our new column, Pixel Pages. Or I’ll just link to stuff that seems important. Your miles may vary.
There are several goals of the column:
- Provide news and information on non-print comics, which includes webcomics and digital comics
- Provide a promotional and informational platform for webcomics and digital comics creators as a means for them to reach new readers
- Expand readers’ and my own knowledge and awareness of webcomics and digital comics
- Not embarrass myself
(Probably already too late for that last one.)
The format of this column will almost certainly shift over time, both in frequency and layout, to meet the needs of whatever story or comic being covered. You can subscribe to this blog at the top right, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter to make sure you get future installments.
I figure, everyone wants to reach more people, and I so rarely see webcomics creators do promotional outreach to the big comics news sites. Maybe there’s an impression they’re not interested? Well, I’m here to say, I’m interested. I love comics and I want good comics to find new eyeballs. The Comics Observer has a diverse line-up of columnists each attracting their own unique demographics of regular visitors, some of which are new to comics, returning to comics or interested in expanding their comics reading. So we’re in a unique position to spread around some comics love.
If you are affiliated with a webcomic or digital-first comic, or a fan of one, please be in touch. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send me your press releases, your announcements, your art previews, just say ‘hi’ and let me know about your comic or your favorite comic. Send me news tips and let me know if there’s a story, topic or question you think deserves to be covered for creators and fans of webcomics and digital comics, as well as those that could potentially become fans.
Initially I’m most interested in hearing from and covering comics with a regular readership of a few thousand or more, but I’m hardly going to ask for anyone to prove themselves. If I have the space and availability, and think it’s newsworthy, I’ll do my best to cover it and do it justice.
Happy New Year! The Comics Observer will be returning to our regular weekly schedule (more or less). But first, to kick things off: a list of lists for the listophiles. 2012 was another amazing year for comics. Truly the great modern renaissance continues unabated.
We’ll be attempting to aggregate every online “best of 2012″ comics lists covering comic books, graphic novels, manga, webcomics, etc. that we find. (Basically, a blatant rip-off of this Best Of books list of lists.)
Please feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me with a blog, magazine, newspaper, or other online media list I have missed.
About.com (comics, graphic novels)
Ace Comics (comics)
Alec Reads Comics (comics)
Amazon.com (comics, graphic novels)
A.V. Club (comics)
A.V. Club (graphic novels)
Bad Girls, Good Guys, and Two-Fisted Tales (graphic novels)
Barnes & Noble (graphic novels)
Battle Hymns (graphic novels)
The Beat (comics, graphic novels)
Bleeding Cool (comics, graphic novels)
Bleeding Cool (Irish comics)
Bloody Disgusting (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6) (horror comics)
Boing Boing (comics, graphic novels)
Boston Globe (fiction with graphic novels)
Brain Pickings (graphic novels)
Brian Evinou (comics, graphic novels)
British Comic Awards (comics, graphic novels, creators)
Broken Frontier (UK small press comics)
Co.Create (digital comics)
Collingswood Patch (comics, etc.)
ComicAttack.net (all-ages comics)
ComicBook.com (new comic series)
Comic Book Resources (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5) (comics, graphic novels, webcomics)
Comics Alliance (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5) (comics, graphic novels, webcomics)
Comics-and-More (superhero comics)
Comics Bulletin (comics, graphic novels, webcomics, creators)
The Comics Reporter (comics, graphic novels, webcomics)
Comics Should Be Good (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7) (comics, graphic novels)
Comics Worth Reading (graphic novels)
comiXology (digital comics)
CraveOnline (graphic novels)
Crisis on Infinite Midlives (part 1, part 2) (comics)
The Daily BLAM! (comics)
Den of Geek (comics, graphic novels)
Diana Tamblyn (part 1) (comics, graphic novels)
Drawn (comics, graphic novels, art books, etc.)
Earth’s Mightiest Blog (comics, graphic novels)
East Windsor Patch (comics)
FEARnet (horror comics)
File Under Other (comics)
Filth and Fabulations (graphic novels)
Flashback Universe (digital comics)
Forbidden Planet (comics, graphic novels)
Ghastly Awards (horror comics)
The Globe and Mail (graphic novels)
Goodreads Choice Awards (graphic novels)
The Gauntlet (graphic novels, etc.)
The Guardian (graphic novels)
House to Astonish (comics)
Huffington Post UK (comics, graphic novels)
iFanboy (comics, graphic novels, creators, etc.)
IGN (comics, graphic novels, digital comics, webcomics, creators, etc.)
io9 (comics, graphic novels)
Karen the Small Press Librarian (part 1, part 2) (graphic novels)
Library Journal (graphic novels)
Manga Bookshelf (manga)
Manga Bookshelf: Melinda (part 1, part 2) (manga)
Maybe Blogging Will Help (comics, graphic novels)
MillarWorld (comics, graphic novels)
Mother Jones (books with graphic novels)
MTV Geek (comics)
MTV Geek (graphic novels)
MTV Geek (manga)
Multiversity Comics (comics, graphic novels, creators, etc.)
National Post (books with graphic novels)
Nerdage (graphic novels)
Newsarama (comics, graphic novels, creators, etc.)
NewsOK.com (graphic novels)
NPR (graphic novels)
NYTimes.com (books with graphic novels)
NYTimes.com (‘bathroom books’)
Panel Patter (indie comics)
Paste Magazine (comics, graphic novels)
Paste Magazine (webcomics)
Paste Magazine (graphic novel reissues)
Paste Magazine (comics, graphic novels, webcomics, digital comics)
Patheos (comics, graphic novels)
Planet 46 (comics, graphic novels, etc.)
Publishers Weekly (graphic novels)
Quill & Quire (graphic novels)
Rob Kirby Comics (self-published comics, graphic novels)
Rob Liefeld (comics)
Robot 6 (comics, graphic novels, manga, webcomics, digital comics)
Salon.com (graphic novels)
SciFiNow (comics, graphic novels)
School Library Journal (graphic novels)
She Has No Head! (comics, graphic novels, webcomics)
SFGate (books with graphic novels)
TheStar.com (comics, graphic novels)
StarTribune (graphic novels)
The Tearoom of Despair (comics, graphic novels)
TIME (graphic novels)
Time Out Chicago Kids (part 1, part 2) (graphic novels)
Tor.com (concluding comics series)
USA Today (comics, creators, etc.)
Village Voice (comics, graphic novels)
The Washington Post (comics, graphic novels)
The Weekly Crisis (graphic novels)
When Words Collide (part 1) (comics, graphic novels)
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.
Why read comics?
There’s the Internet, there are video games, apps, TV shows, movies, music, books, theater, radio plays, museums, art galleries… There are bills to pay, jobs to get to and/or find, homework and chores to do, people to be with (or avoid)…
Finding a reason to do something else is real easy.
But once you stumble upon that first comic book or graphic novel or manga or web-comic that connects with you in a way like nothing else, it’s even easier to realize that comics can’t be ignored. They can be an exceptionally engrossing form of entertainment and a transcendent form of artistic expression.
The short version is – THEY’RE AWESOME!
Sure, it’s a great way to spend some spare time. It’s a fun way to be entertained. Some light escapism is great. And if you’re looking for more, there’s plenty of that too. They have unbridled freedom for creativity and expression. They can be crazy, bizarre, unpredictable, adventurous, sublime, hilarious, romantic, informative, brazen, crass, gentle, healing, and so much more.
The longer version gets a little deep, so hold on.
We may think of comics as old newspaper strips, superheroes and funny animals, but the art form and language have pervaded our entire culture.
Some in literary circles see the graphic novel as the young upstart to the established prose novel. But comics actually predate print and the written word. Pre-historic cave drawings used symbols, imagery and sequential storytelling like a primitive comic strip mural. The written language could even be said to be the evolution of these kind of devices. Just as our brains have been trained to understand that a big, lazy orange cat that eats lasagna and hates Mondays is Garfield, so too do we understand that a circle with the right side missing is the letter ‘C’ and that it makes certain sounds in our language. Taken further, we also understand that a red octagon means we should STOP. We understand that words over someone’s head means they are speaking those words. All of this representative symbology could be said to be related to the development of comics. They are a deeply engrained aspect of our basic visual communication.
Because of these fundamental building blocks, comics are arguably the most powerful, pervasive and instant form of communication. And whether you agree or not (it’s not really a contest, after all), comics have proved themselves to be just as capable forms of entertainment worthy of some time as any other. I hope you’ll give them a chance.
Keep checking back here at The Comics Observers for more Intro to Comics articles, where we’ll explore basic aspects of the big world of comics so it doesn’t seem so daunting and overwhelming to check something out. (And me we might touch more on theory from time to time.) If you’d like to see if you can find something you might like, check out What to Read. If you have a question or want to see something explained, post a comment below, or write through Facebook, Twitter or email.
And here we are!
If you got here from my comics coverage at CoreyBlake.com or from DigComics.com, thank you for your continued interest. You’ll find that all of my comics-related articles from CoreyBlake.com have magically teleported over here, along with some even older articles from here and there.
If this is your first time, thank you for taking the time to stop by! You’ll see some new articles from the last month and tons more to come!
So what can you expect? The world doesn’t need yet another comics news site, so while I will be providing my own commentary and unique coverage of current events in comics, the site will look to provide a gateway to people just getting into this massive form of entertainment and also give occasional recommended reads. As visitors get more comfortable, they can dig deeper by looking at spotlights on unique experiments in comics and fun facts of the past. And as a special bonus for local readers here in Los Angeles, I’ll feature events like signings and conventions in and around the LA comics scene. To learn more, see the About page.
It’s very likely you’re here for only a few of these things and that’s OK! Just use the handy navigation menu at the top to see the articles you’re interested in.
We’ll have guest-bloggers, like this Friday’s coverage of an LA play that merges theater and graphic novels. We’ll take a look at a publisher’s digital exclusive comic and see if it succeeds as a promotional tool. What else? If there’s anything you’d like to see, let me know. If you have questions about comics you’ve always wanted to ask but were embarrassed, ask away (anonymity provided upon request). Post in the comments below every article, join The Comics Observer Facebook page, follow @ComicsObserver on Twitter, email email@example.com.
To start, the site will update Wednesdays (new comics day!) and Fridays to keep the focus on quality over quantity.
Thanks again for stopping by. We’ll see you on Friday!
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.