Analyzing Digital Comics Through Interviews – Part 1

Over the past weeks I’ve had the incredible opportunity to talk to multiple awesome creators about their digital comics work. We talked about their motivations, the services they used to get their books out there, the strengths and weaknesses of the medium, and so much more. Now I want to distill some of that conversation into something that we can use, something that shows how creators are using digital comics, their needs, and where the medium is going.

If you haven’t read the interviews that I’m talking about, well what are you waiting for? Be sure to check these bad boys out and head over to the creator’s sites to see what they have to offer.
Christ Charlton of Assailant Comics
Michael Koch and Dimented Realities
Ed Dippolito and Frank N. Stein
Sara Simms and The Future Prophecy
Joe White and Annie MacCool

I also interviewed Becky Jewell from Graphicly, to get the lowdown on their services and what they can offer to digital comic creators. Becky provides an awesome industry perspective and highlights publisher goals and the emerging trends in the digital books market.
Becky Jewell from Graphicly

Motivations
I think it goes without saying that those people out their creating comics, they have a passion for storytelling. The creators that I talked to all had this passion, but they had different reasons for working in comics and making that jump to digital.

Some, like Michael Koch, felt that their material was unpublishable and not mainstream enough for the established publishers to pick up so they decided to tell their stories digitally. Joe White wanted to see one of his film scripts brought to life and used comics. Others, like Sara Simms, saw comics as a way to combine a variety of artistic and local influences with her professional persona and create something totally unique. Ed Dippolito wanted to tell stories, but autonomy has to be a part of the package. What’s his is his, and digital publishing allows for those sorts of affordances. Chris Charlton wanted to create a body of work for people to see, whether they be fans or potential employers, and supplement his print comics work.

A ton of different motivations right? Well how did the affordances of this particular medium help fulfill those motivations?

Strengths and Weaknesses
Each creator had their own view of the strengths and weaknesses of digital comics and I think showing these off is something that will help us understand what the medium offers, what works well, and what can be improved.

Strengths
Ease of Entry: Anyone can publish a digital comic once they’ve gotten something on paper. Many of the services that help publish digital comics, Graphicly for example, only require a modest fee and your digital files. They take your work, convert them to whichever format a platform requires and they actually distribute the comic for you. Just sit back, relax, and watch as your story hits Amazon, the iBookstore, and other popular digital marketplaces. All creators are responsible for is crafting a great story.

Cost Effective: Compared to print, digital comics can be a lot cheaper to distribute. Companies like Graphicly and Aquafadas, depending on your service choice, only charge an up-front fee. Granted you get a huge chunk taken out of your profits by distributors, but that’s the same for print. No printing costs, and unless you feel like it, you don’t have to go to conventions peddling your wares. It’s probably a good idea to hit the convention circuit, it’s all about who you know, but you don’t have to.

Short Time to Market: While the act of actually writing, pencilling, inking, and coloring a comic obviously takes a crap ton of time, printing and distribution can add months to your release date. With digital comics your finished pages can go live in as short as two weeks!

Much Longer Shelf Life: Digital comics, unlike their print cousins, never have to go out of print. This means that readers who caught on to a creator’s later work won’t have to wait for a trade paper back or comb through the quarter bins at the local shop for the early stuff. It’ll be right there for them to purchase, whenever they feel like it.

Exposure: Even if you had the power to go to every single convention, you’ll never get as many eyes on your work as the internet could potentially provide. The internet grants access to markets and audiences that you never knew existed. It provides a space for to brand themselves and their work, to create a home base for fans to gather, and a offers a whole slew of different ways to communicate across industries and continents. It allows easy access for fans, fellow creators, editors, and publishers who may be interested in your material but aren’t anywhere near your geographic proximity.

Synergy: Chris mentioned that the sales of his print stuff have gone up since introducing free digital comics into the mix. There’s an opportunity there, especially with the innovations provided by print-on-demand services. Get readers hooked on the free stuff so that they’ll want to support you and pay for your other work. Comics are still “collector’s items” and until we forget what it feels like to hold a comic in our hand, forget that special smell, people will be willing to buy print work. Why not get them hooked on digital first?

Adds Legitimacy: The best thing creators can do for themselves if they want to make it in comics is, you guessed it, make comics. Once you’ve done that you’ve got a leg to stand on when you start pitching your tales to established publishers. You’re not longer Random Joe with a story about fairies, but you’re Joe Spinelli, that guy who’s done great work on that cool digital comic Fairy Fire.

The Future: In an increasingly digital world, and with the increasing ubiquity of tablets, ereaders, and smart phones, what creator wouldn’t want to ride this wave? Learning what it takes to thrive in an online environment now will prepare creators for the rapidly changing face of publishing and better situate them for this brave new world.

WHEW! Alright team, that’s it for the analysis tonight. Next post, I’ll be talking about the weaknesses of the digital comics market, so don’t think that the world of digital is totally rosy 24/7, and why our creators used the services they did. It should be a blast so stay tuned!

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