Digital Comics: the future of commerce and the future of art?

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bodyworld too Digital Comics: the future of commerce and the future of art?

Today’s pair of links about digital comics.

David Brothers, who generally has a very aggressive stance regarding moving into digital, pisses off comics retailers by suggesting day and date would not really hurt shop sales:

The entire industry is in flux, the Big Two are trying to figure out what still sells, and digital comics are subject to that upheaval. How is it going to shake out? I don’t know, and I’m not even qualified to guess. Maybe digital comics will find an entirely new market. Maybe the entire industry will collapse. I don’t know. But the dental floss analogy is damaging. It positions digital comics as something ephemeral, worthless in the face of the might of the Direct Market. That’s great for the self-esteem of retailers, but how are consumers supposed to take that? Doesn’t that suggest a lack of faith in the format? It’s like falling dominoes: publisher expresses a lack of faith in the format, doesn’t pursue the format aggressively enough, consumer notices that lack of faith and doesn’t embrace the format, and the format fails.


I agree of course, but the numbers I’ve seen are still modest. What will be the digitally native comic that really pushes things?

• Meanwhile, Matt Seneca looks at the same question in a Balboa-like expedition to the bleeding edge of comics storytelling:

We’re deep into what will become the history of webcomics at this point, with a readership for the comics medium’s online format that soundly eclipses even the best selling Diamond-distributed Wednesday books. Deal with it, folks — not only will the adventures of the Doom Patrol and the Agents of Atlas, if not necessarily Batman and Wolverine, be digital-exclusive by the end of the decade, so too will a large part of the interesting new alt- and art-comix work. It’s already started: Dash Shaw’s Pantheon-published print version of BodyWorld might be hanging off those Borders shelves now, but you could read the thing free online for like a year before that.


Seneca’s discussion centers on formalists in the Shaw mode: Connor Willumsen, David Gray, and the Bret Easton Ellis for the bunch, Blaise Larmee. None of them are producing anything that will go on your iPhone — all these examples rely on the scrolling natures of the web browser, so maybe the iPad. They are abstract in some cases, but affecting. And they aren’t like “traditional” webcomics at all.

Larmee was recently the subject of a controversial TCJ interview where he came off as churlish and egotistical:

Larmee: I insist on staying in the present moment. 2001 exists, for me, in real time. This is different than Young Lions. For Young Lions I asked myself, “how will I win the Xeric grant?” and every subsequent action was structured toward this specific thing/event. Now my questions change in each panel and are always in relation to my characters and their environment.


Every movement needs a churlish, egotistical frontman. We shall see. I’m just charmed to know I was right about Geocities style becoming retro. WARNING: link leads to loud autoplay music, just like Geocities.

Comments

  1. Thanks to author a blog for good news in the world of comics. I support you in that digital comics are a step in the future of commerce and the future of art. I like this idea seems interesting. Would be cool to read your favorite comics in the Internet format, I think it will attract a lot of people!

  2. Boy, that almost read like a real comment.

    Almost.

  3. I love this topic. Please cover it more! I will eat it all up.

    I wonder what the parallel is to music. I don’t have data, but I lived thru it. How I remember it was this: not many people used mp3s, not many, record companies were pissed because it wasn’t many but it was a LOT of mp3s, not many, not many then BOOM!
    Everyone made the switch like in no times. CDs plummeted like crazy.

    of course, even to this day there are still folks buying CDs, but the numbers are plummeting and everyone kind of assumes it’s an mp3 world at this point.

    I can’t help but think the shift to digital is going to happen in a rush, too, in comics.

    To all the haters I say: change is exciting! there are things we are going to lose in the shift but none of us can ever anticipate all the great things we will gain with a new technology.

    I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but it’s gonna be great (and hey! maybe it will make your old paper floppies more valuable as collectibles?)

  4. Ross A. McIntyre says:

    Now, if only the big 2 would not try and charge retail prices for day-and-date comics. Sorry, but a $3.99 digital comic just isn’t something I am going to support and I am a huge proponent of digital.

  5. Phil Southern says:

    Take this opinion with a huge lump of salt, since I have yet to download a comic through legitimate or illegitimate platforms. I also wouldn’t know how to find them if I did want to, due to my high Luddite-level.

    But aren’t comics essentially available on the “day and date” for free through various pirating websites? My impression, through talking to current and past customers at the comic shop where I work, is that scanned copies are usually available online by lunch-time on Wednesday. Some of the more tech-savvy folks have been following new releases this way for the past four or five years. The downloading has increased as comic sales have concomitantly dwindled.

    So, long story short, day and date probably matters very little. What will matter is finding a downloading platform where paying for digital comics is the easiest and most expedient choice, a la iTunes, versus finding it for free.

    Phil

  6. If i can’t own a copy of the book i dont want it. The digital comic market right now from the big two doesnt allow you to own a copy of it on your HDD. I dont want to pay for somehting that could be taken away from me at any time.

  7. I am a landline-phone-using, paper-comic-reading, Skypeless, VCR-using fellow. But not because I don’t know what’s available.
    It’s by choice, and most of it based on ease-of-use, or cost. I want things cheap and easy. (…insert joke here)

    I will prefer the 99¢ digital comic business model. But like Dan Thomas, I want to own the file I buy, not just purchase a pay-per-view online comic.

    1. Digital is here. 2. Digital is coming. Take your pick.

  8. The impression I get (and maybe I’m not the only one) is that neither Marvel or DC really have no idea what to do in regards to digital comics.

    Neither seems to have any clear plan on how to take advantage of the opportunities digital comics give them. They seem to be reacting to market conditions more so than putting together a clear-cut plan.

    Granted, it doesn’t help there are numerous apps out there which one could buy to buy and download digital comics which some find confusing. Then there is the whole digital rights issue (do you really own the digital comic you just purchased?). And we can’t forget about the elephant in the room- the comic retailers.

    I imagine no one who reads and loves comics want digital comics to replace print comics. I know I don’t. But the fact is, the sales and popularity of digital comics will only continue to grow. You only have to look at the music and book industry to see what could potentially happen to this industry. There’s an article on Digital Comic News (http://www.digitalcomicnews.com/digital-comics-happen-print-comics/) which throws out some ideas on how comic retailers and digital comic creators, publishers, and app creators can work together to grow their respective businesses and the industry as a whole.

    Maybe that is where the problem is: we have the different forces of the comic industry (publishers, comic shop owners, digital comic app creators and publishers) working separately instead of trying to work together so that everyone benefits from the growing popularity of digital comics. Easier said than done, I know. But the alternative could be the current course they are taking which is really helping no one.

    Wesley Craig Green

  9. The Beat says:

    NO one allowed to comment unless they read BOTH LINKS like I did!

  10. Guilty as charged, Heidi, but I did go read them after commenting and before I saw your comment. I came back to see what other folks were saying.

    Basically, the first is about business and the 2nd is about art.

    I find both reaaaaaaaallllly interesting and am excited about where this is all headed and how digital is going to cause the form to expand.

    In general, I find the artistic questions much more interesting, because I think the transition to digital comics is a fait accompli. I don’t know just what it’s going to look like, but it’s gonna happen. That said, this quote from the first link, on bizness, is what I found most compelling in what he wrote:

    Here’s the truth: Digital comics are neither shark nor goldfish. “Print versus digital” is a false dichotomy, one that makes for great alarmist headlines and hype but doesn’t actually reflect anything that will happen in reality. Digital music forced the music industry to wake up and embrace a new paradigm, and provided a new opportunity for revenue in the midst of free-falling sales. Piracy decimated the music industry, and the music industry responded by doubling down on CDs, sabotaging efforts to get digital music off the ground, and generally acting like the way things were going was perfectly normal. They couldn’t see the forest for the trees, and the Big Two seem to be making the exact same mistake.

  11. crap… i tried to make that last paragraph a quote in my comic but I guess I can’t use the blockquote tag here in the comments. NOTE! LAST PARAGRAPH ABOVE IS NOT BY ME! It’s from the Comics Alliance link above!

  12. Phil Southern says:

    I will happily rescind my earlier comment as I tried to read both of those entries, and was able to get through the first one, and gave up on the second due to its long-windedness.

  13. In regards to the shark/goldfish comparison…I assumed that when Larsen said “undercut retailers” with the day and date digital Dragon, he meant, “we don’t want to slap retailers in the face.” Retailers view day and date digital comics as a slight against them. Considering that they’ve propped up this niche industry for quite some time, I feel as though they are entitled to feel that way.

    Proponents of digital comics are clamoring for day and date at a price of 99 cents. Quite a few of these proponents refuse to buy a digital comic if it costs more.

    My question is…what if this is not actually economically feasible for Marvel and DC? They still have all of the same production costs (minus printing) so they only way they could make an equivalent profit as print would be if they sold a helluva lot more copies. Until they do, aren’t they just cannibalizing their own readership.

    Is advertising the answer? I know it works for other apps that are offered for free but this is comics. Is it viable for comics?

    I guess it boils down to…are there REALLY that many more potential comic book readers out there just waiting to reading comics but are hesitant because they aren’t digital and they aren’t 99 cents?

    If anyone is curious as to where I’m coming from… I believe that digital comics will share the future with weekly print comics, just as trade paperbacks do. Until someone finds a way to do online comic book conventions where people sell, buy, and trade digital comics, I don’t see print being completely replaced.

    What I NEVER understand are all of the comparisons to other media. These arguments just never hold up to me. Music media has changed with almost decade (vinyl, 8-track, cassette, CD, mini-disc, iTunes) and home movie entertainment has already gone through three major changes (VHS, Laserdisc, DVD). All the while, comics have stayed the same.

    And the magazine/newspaper analogies don’t hold up either. Are there big newspaper or magazine conventions where collectors buy, sell, and trade the newest issues?

    Comic books aren’t like any other media so their path won’t follow others. Unlike the others (with the exception of vinyl) comic books are a collector based industry. It’s a niche market. Digital can only be PART of it’s future.

    When I hear demands of, “Day and date!” and “I’ll only pay 99 cents!”, I can’t help but think of a quote from Marlo Stanfield in a scene from The Wire:

    “You want it to be one way. But it’s the other way.”

  14. Synsidar says:

    crap… i tried to make that last paragraph a quote in my comic but I guess I can’t use the blockquote tag here in the comments.

    You can use HTML tags, including the blockquote tag, in the comments. The coding by hand could be troublesome.

    SRS

  15. @Greg Those are all pretty good points, but from what I’ve heard the bottom is falling out of the comics as collectibles market (anyone want to buy my stash? I have like 8000 – really good stuff).

    And I feel like there is an online convention where people swap digital versions of comics. It’s called Scans Daily.

  16. The analogy to the music industry really isn’t applicable. When you download a song, though there are different ways to listen to it, there really is no difference in the quality of the experience–you hear the song as it was designed to be heard.

    The experience of reading a comic-book or trade paperback is different from reading it online, on an iPad or iPod Touch; and designing for print is different than designing for digital delivery, at least if it is to be truly effective and user-friendly.

    Also, I don’t think digital quite carries the same cache as print, particularly in terms of “collecting” (versus just reading). Collecting is somewhat based on the ideal of limited supply (even if that limited supply is 50,000 or more); versus digital which technically can be reproduced infinitely with no gradation of quality. I’m not a true collector myself, but I’m just noting that regardless of what people may feel, comic-book collecting is something that drives part of the industry.

  17. badpenny says:

    Both articles have interesting points. Mainly about web and print having two different audiences. Can’t believe someone actually said that out loud. Usually, when promoting digital as “the future”, the past (monthly comics) must be considered “dead”. Like they can’t co-exist? I know I like both.

    However, what both articles fail to mention (as per usual when people discuss this particular topic) is the current economy. If the big two are hesitant to explore digital now, how motivated will they be when unemployment goes down to say 7 or 8 percent and comics sales get a boost? Because that is going to happen eventually. People don’t change their way of doing business unless they have to.

    This topic makes me think of old sci fi movies from the 40s and 50s. You know, where they say things like “in 1970 we’ll have flying cars!” I’m always amazed at how quickly people think change will happen. All history to the contrary.

    And I don’t really think that what happened with music is comparable. That is basically about delivery. There was no fondness and sense of nostalgia for 8 tracks when they died. The fondness was for the music, however it was delivered. The comic books appeal to the majority of print comic book readers is the format almost as much as the content.

  18. CitizenCliff says:

    You want coexistence? How’d that work out for travel agents? Phillis was great, she used to bring the tickets over to my office. I don’t know where she is these days. I use Expedia or hotels.com or whoever has the best price, and I can do it faster, and rifle through way more choices than Phillis ever gave me.

    In a comic shop, a particular book has to be there in order for me to be able to find it and then purchase it. I have to make time in my day to go to a comic shop, not that I don’t enjoy that. But right now, if the comixology or graphic.ly app were filled with all the current books that are offered in comic shops throughout the country, I could conceivably buy anything at any time, including right now as I ride the train into Manhattan from Red Bank, NJ. No comic shop can compete with that sort of ubiquity.

  19. Chris Hero says:

    I’m going to admit something I probably shouldn’t….I’ve read Acme Novelty Library vols 16 & 17 on my laptop and my iPad. I thought the iPad experience was superior to the print experience. Since Chris Ware puts a *ton* of effort into making the print version a work of art in every possible way, I was really shocked I liked the iPad way better. Why was it better? Because I could zoom in on the art and panels and it was easier to read the tiny lettering.

    (I own both books, and every subsequent volume, in print.)

    Anyway, the dental floss analogy was dumb and I believe it was primarily meant to make retailers feel better about the future. I don’t think it was really intended to go beyond that room, but it did. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making an analogy that expresses support for your primary customers.

    I didn’t read the David Brothers article. I read the Matt Seneca article last night and thought it was phenomenal.

  20. Torsten Adair says:

    “The experience of reading a comic-book or trade paperback is different from reading it online, on an iPad or iPod Touch”

    Depends on the eye of the beholder.
    For most people, it won’t matter, as long as the images and lettering are legible, the reading experience is not obtrusive, and the page refreshes quickly.

    http://xkcd.com/841/

    I tend to read webcomics in one sitting, hitting “next” and waiting a few seconds for the next page to load. That’s not a problem, for me. Yes, it takes longer to read than the book equivalent, but most haven’t been collected yet, or I’m a first time visitor and just sampling the comic.

    I do believe digital will kill off periodical comics magazines. Diamond will be offering a digital copy $1 cheaper than the paper copy. Why not buy the cheaper copy, and then buy the trade collection later if I really like the story and want a permanent copy?

    Where comics differ from music:
    The hardcopy of a comic is different than the digital copy. An MP3 or PCM file is not that much different than a physical CD disk. If I download a song or album, I’m not likely to go and purchase a physical copy as well.

    If I read a digital comic, I’m likely to purchase the trade collection. It’s easier to access. I’m a collector and a bibliophile. Of course, there are numerous books I’ve read which I did not purchase (via libraries), and digital books and magazines will be treated the same.

  21. CitizenCliff says:

    So I’m on my way home on the train, and I’ve just read Feeding Grounds issue 2 on my iPad. Mike Lapinski’s art was just as impressive as in a paper comic. If the third issue were available, I would’ve purchase that on Graphic.ly as well,, because they don’t sell comics on the North Jersey Coast line.

  22. badpenny says:

    @chris

    re: “You want coexistence? How’d that work out for travel agents?”

    That comparison doesn’t really help make your point. In fact, it does the reverse. Especially since travel agents are still used frequently, especially for international travel where you can almost always get a cheaper ticket and hotel accomodations than you can online. That I know this from frequent trips to Russia would be a personal anecdote and besides the point, the facts (the continued, profitable existence of travel agencies)speak for themselves. So that actually makes the argument for co-existence since people use both the internet and travel agencies.

    Expedia and Priceline was not the death knell for Travel Agencies that one might expect. Much like Digital will never be the death knell for monthly comics as some delight in saying even though there isn’t a shred of evidence to support the claim. The rest of your argument is just more “death of comics” claptrap that doesn’t take into account little things like facts.

    @torsten

    re: “Depends on the eye of the beholder.”

    Actually, it depends on facts. Like the continued decent sales of comics in the worst economy ever (something frequently ignored and very telling in this ongoing discussion), like the amount of revenue digital brings in to the big two vs print.

    This statement…

    “If I read a digital comic, I’m likely to purchase the trade collection.”

    is why what you say in this statement….

    “I do believe digital will kill off periodical comics magazines”

    …will never happen. There’s more of you than you might think.

    PS.

    Did you know they still make record players? Expensive ones too. Interesting.

  23. badpenny says:

    Actually, that first response was directed at Cliff, not Chris. Sorry Chris.

  24. “I tend to read webcomics in one sitting, hitting “next” and waiting a few seconds for the next page to load. That’s not a problem, for me. Yes, it takes longer to read than the book equivalent….”

    You proved my point. I didn’t say the experience was worse, I said it was different. (Colors also differ on the printed page than from an LCD screen.) You admitted it was no problem for you, an acknowledgment others might not have the same experience.

    I’m just saying that people recognize that some accommodations need to be considered if you’re going to deliver it online as a webcomic, as a digital download, or for print. They can be interchangeable to a degree, but that’s not necessarily making the best use of any of the delivery methods. Musicians do not need to make the kind of aesthetic/design choices in their music to this extent regardless of whether someone is listening on a CD, the radio, or an iPod.

    I publish my own comic and though I have a webcomic and am focused on the print, I know that I probably haven’t made the best use of the webcomic because I’ve simply been posting the print pages. It works, but most people clearly understand that most comics probably need to do more than this if it is to be successful digitally.

  25. Am I the only person who feels like my eyeballs are going to fall out from looking at screens all the time?

  26. Yes.

  27. Anthem says:

    No.

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