Category Archives: Interview

Talking Digital Comics with Ellerbism’s Marc Ellerby

About a month ago I got to talk to Marc Ellerby about his web diary comic, Ellerbisms, its move to digital, print, and other totally brilliant stuff. Then the struggle bus named “you’re almost done with grad school get your bleeping life together” hit me full steam ahead. But I’m back and I’m pleased to bring you this awesome interview, criminally late as it is. And now on with the show!

I Speak Comics: Would you mind giving us a quick rundown of Ellerbisms? Why did you decide to create a diary comic?

Marc EllerbyMarc Ellerby sitting at his desk with a pen in hand.During my second year of university Top Shelf was bringing out a bunch of autobio graphic novels and I got into them in a big way. American Elf had just started to pick up steam, Jeffrey Brown’s books were coming out and then Blankets hit and everyone and their mate wanted to draw autobio comics about girls.

I liked the way they were relatable to me even though I had never met the author, I connected with them in a way that I could see correlations with my own life. Sometimes the comics were heartbreaking and sometimes they were hilarious and I couldn’t get enough of them. So I did some diary comics for my third year project and I enjoyed making them so much that I thought I’d pick them up a few years later as a web comic.

ISC: Ellerbisms ended in 2010, but it just made it to print in November of 2012. Did it take two years to find a publisher or were you just content to have the comic live on the web?

ME: I ended Ellerbisms as I needed a break from it as I really had enough of looking at my life and putting it out to the general public – it had just stopped being fun. The two year gap in part was to get my head around “how is this going to work as a book; with a beginning, middle and end?” as it’s a diary comic and narrative is sometimes lost due to the spiralling nature of the genre.

Also about a year after the strip ended the relationship that I was in for the majority of the comic was falling apart and that was pretty hard to go through. I knew I wanted to deal with that in the book, and that in itself was the most difficult part of the book to do so I just put it off for a while. So even though the comic ended in 2010, I wanted to do a lot of new material for the book to give it context and a definitive narrative as opposed to just “hey look at this funny thing that happened to me”. When the relationship ended I knew what the book’s focus was going to be (and in a lot of ways drawing those comics helped me work through a lot of things and put it all in perspective).

Marc and his friend shaking their heads back and forth with their tongues out, being silly.I actually ended up self-publishing the book and starting a publishing company with my good friend Adam Cadwell called Great Beast so we could release these sort of projects.

I tried to get it in with a couple of publishers but none got back to me so I thought I’d do it myself and make the print edition the best I possibly could. So it has nice paper, it’s got rounded corners (to ape the sketchbook that I drew the comics in) and it has a spot varnish element on the cover. With Great Beast the creator is the publisher, so the person/s behind the comic pay for the print runs and the digital costs ourselves and then reap all the cash back. No one else takes a cut other than the printers, the apps and the stores etc.

ISC: How does it feel to hold three years of work? Literally hundreds of daily snippets of your life. Has there been any sort of catharsis as you reread your strips? Are you embarrassed about anything? Would you say that you’ve grown?

ME: Oh it’s a mixed feeling for sure. In some ways it’s great to hold a body of work and see your artwork progress but at the same time there’s the early strips that are just awful and I skim past them. Skip to the good bits!

I know there’s some super personal stuff in there and that’s a worry but I knew that was going to come with the territory with autobio, you’re not always the hero of your own story and sometimes you’re a dick because you’re human. You have to be honest not only with yourself but with your reader and it’s easy to brush the bad times aside but that’s not how life goes.

I think I’ve grown artistically but I don’t know about personally. I feel like I could quite easily make the same mistakes as before (though I’d try really hard not to).

ISC: What do you like about web comics? I mean why start Ellerbisms on the Internet as opposed to print minicomics or something along those lines?

Mini-comic cover, with Marc eating a sandwich on the coverME: I did a few mini comics when Ellerbisms started online and I tried to make them as appealing as possible with recycled cardboard covers and nice paper but yeah no one really wanted them, they just wanted a book! I like the immediacy of webcomics, the best feedback I’ve got from my readers is in the comment sections (and also the opposite of that is true I guess) and it’s nice to build up an audience and interact with them online and at conventions. There’s not a huge amount of outgoings for publishing on the web (apart from the hosting and domain fees) and you can reach more people than you could with print comics for sure.

ISC: But you’ve also done work in print, like Love the Way You Love for Oni. What are some of the awesome things about working in print? Crappy things?

ME: I think with black and white comics you still can’t beat print for the reproduction quality and up until a few years ago I’d say the same about colour comics, but now with HD screen tablets I’m not sure that’s the case (though I hate the reflection you get on those screens, there’s nothing like reading Hawkeye and seeing your face all big in the reflection). I still love print, I love the smell of the ink on the paper and there’s nothing like a good quality paper-stock.

Books are still exciting objects to hold and I think that’ll be the future of the industry, publishers are just going to have to make the best book they possibly can. Print’s declining but it can still be relevant and sustainable by doing super-nice editions, you gotta make your books Kindle-proof, you’ve got to give the reader a reason to buy it physically.

ISC: Now just last month you released Ellerbisms digitally, on digital platforms like Graphicly and comiXology. Can you talk a little bit about that process? Why move Ellerbisms to digital comics readers if people can just go to your site and read everything for free?

Cover for Ellerbisms. Marc and his girlfriend sit on the curb beneath a purple sunset eating french fries.ME: Ah but they can’t read it all for free. There’s loads of new stuff in the book and you also get all those pages if you buy the book digitally. So, yes you can read the majority of it for free but I think if you’re going to charge people for it you have to give them something extra, something that they can’t get online.

So in the case of Ellerbisms it’s, well, it’s the rest of the story. I make another comic called Chloe Noonan: Monster Hunter and that came out as black and white mini comics first but for the digital edition I coloured all 130 pages to entice people drop £3 on it. It looks snazzy in colour and great to read on the tablets.

It’s important to offer your comics digitally as well as in print, the way people are reading books is changing and you have to adapt to that. It’s still in it’s infancy but it’s accelerating at such a speed that as a creator you can’t afford to not offer your books as ebooks. I’m still testing the waters to see what works and what doesn’t and what platforms are worth the headaches.

ISC: So now you’ve got Ellerbisms for free on the web, in a beautiful s0ftcover, and as a digital comic. I mean we can’t escape your books! But that’s a great thing right? 

ME: Yeah it’s a good thing! Though I think my Twitter followers are just so sick of me mentioning the bloody thing now. “No, we get it, you have a book out, well done, you” But going back to my earlier point, you have to cater to all audiences, some people want it as a book, some want to read it on their phone, some want to read parts of it for free. Publishing isn’t just about doing one thing anymore it’s about offering people options, the reader dictates how they want to read their books and not the publisher. Which is exciting and scary and kind of really cool if you think about it. The shift in power has changed.

ISC: Last question, I swear. How do you feel about the future of digital comics? About the medium in general? Are we going to see more digital comics? More web comic creators moving their work to comics readers?

ME: I was never a successful webcomicker for many reasons (diary comics don’t reach high-audience numbers, I’m not great at doing t-shirts and it’s hard to market merchandise on a character that is essentially me) and I know it’s old-fashioned, I know I’m in the minority but what’s wrong with paying for the actual comics? Do I really have to make t-shirts and cups and coasters and tote-bags (though I do like making tote-bags) to make my comic profitable? So I see selling comics digitally as a vital step and it’s one that I hope stays and flourishes, especially for indie creators. I’m working on a new Chloe Noonan series to launch later this year and it was going to be a webcomic but now I’m not so sure, especially now that comiXology’s submit program has launched. It’ll be interesting to see if a digital comic can breakout in the same way that Kate Beaton did online and The Walking Dead did in print.

You can see everything Marc’s up to at his website – http://www.marcellerby.com – and all the Ellerbisms awesome you can handle over at http://www.ellerbisms.comBe sure to check out Marc’s publishing company Great Beast for more incredible books, and if you’re into digital you can browse their digital collection over at comiXology. Need to get your hands on a print copy of Ellerbisms? Grab one here!

Marc Ellerby is a cartoonist based in Essex, England. His comic book work (or “graphic novels” or “graphic stories” or whatever the buzz word of the moment is) includes EllerbismsChloe Noonan: Monster Hunter as well as illustrating comics such as Love The Way You Love for Oni Press and various short stories in anthologies published by Image Comics, Boom! Studios, Solipsistic Pop and We Are Words + Pictures.

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Erin Polgreen and Symbolia – Talking In Depth About Digital Comics Journalism

What’s going on everyone? Today I wanted to share an interview that I had with Erin Polgreen, part of the dynamic duo behind the innovative new digital comics journalism magazine, Symbolia. Erin was kind enough to speak in length about the publication, digital comics, industry trends, and the future of the medium and I promise, all of it is pure gold. If you enjoy comics, digital comics, comics journalism, or just want to figure out what the heck Symbolia is, we’ve got you covered. Now on with the show!

Symbolia Logo

I Speak Comics: For all the readers out there unfamiliar with your new digital magazine, just what is Symbolia?

Erin Polgreen: So Symbolia is a digital journal that merges comics and recording to present investigative news stories in new ways. We report stories from all around the world – from India to Zambia to Iraqi Kurdistan – and it’s really a way for people to experience other cultures, places, and interact with issues in a way that doesn’t necessarily happen with print journalism alone.

ISC: Now I’ve never really heard of comics journalism, except for maybe in the work of Joe Sacco, or rather I’ve never heard of a publication that’s specifically dedicated to comics journalism, so I guess, why Symbolia?

Symbolia Cover ArtEP: First off I think that this is a trend that’s been coming for a few years now. Definitely it started with Joe Sacco, but even before that some of the comics greats did work that was either strongly based in fact, or relied on some reporting itself. If you think about Joe Kubert that was specifically focused on, I believe Bosnia a few years ago. I noticed that there was a trend of comics makers that were either trained as journalists or were telling non-fiction stories, and it was kind of an evolution of diary comics on the web. It wasn’t just, “this is my life as I experience it” but “this is the world around me.”

It was coming along with the rise of tumblr and Pinterest and all these social networks really really geared towards visual sharing. Add tablets to the mix and suddenly the environment for visual journalism is very different and the possibilities are greatly expanded. I had seen creators like Wendy McNaughton and Susie Cagle, even Matt Bors or Ted Rall, their work in Afghanistan totally fits within this purview of comics journalism. So I just had this light bulb moment, I went from reading a digital comic on my first iPad to reading a magazine of photojournalism and it just all clicked together.

I’ve been following and working with these comics journalists for some time and I suddenly saw a place and an opportunity and something that we could do that would really brand the field.

ISC: How long have you guys been doing this?

EP: I’ve been following the comics journalism space for the past two and a half years or so and about a year and a half ago and I realized that this was something that I wanted to do so I went out and raised $34,000 and began working on it in March of last year. We just passed our first anniversary of bringing in our initial round of funding. We officially launched in December of last year. We’re still very young and there’s so many possibilities. It’s really exciting.

Symbolia Interior ArtISC: Is there anyone else doing this sort of thing? Doing comics journalism?

EP: Comics journalism is actually fairly popular abroad, and in fact there are comics used as news in India, so this is something that’s been around for a little bit. Cartoon Movement, which is based out of the Netherlands, they used to have an arm of comics journalism that they were publishing but now they’re just editorial cartoons. Symbolia is to my knowledge the first digital publication in the US that’s dedicated to specifically illustration and news.

ISC: I suppose then my next question is, why digital? What do you like about the new medium?

EP: What I love about tablets and specifically in working with digital comics is that with the new retina screen with the iPad you get the same quality of art as you do with a fine print for much less. And not only that, but you’re able to layer on these subtle interactive elements that heighten the mood or allow the reader to kind of choose their own adventure and dive deeper into a story and we do that with everything from easter egg animations that are hidden throughout the piece to interactive timelines to actual soundtracks or music that accompany a piece. In the latest issue (which you can check out here) we pair audio and video with comics to tell the story of a family that is separated because the father has been deported from the US.

ISC: It’s interesting that you bring up interactive elements like video and sound. Mark Waid recently gave a speech all about what makes comics comics, and one of the things that he said was that comics make their own time. The reader chooses the pace of the story. How do you handle that in Symbolia?

EP: That’s totally a great point and ties to our process in that we rigorously test our issues to see what the reader experience actually is and what Mark Waid says is very true, that comics exist in their own time and I use the time “chose your own adventure” very deliberately when I talk about the work that we produce because very rarely do we use autoplay. We use it sometimes as a surprise but we have rules like no more than 20 seconds, the user needs to manipulate or click, it’s their choice to take the story in a different direction.

For us linking and video and audio is sort of an extra layer that provides mood and context but also makes it easier to source our content but I totally agree, comics are their own time. When I’m actually working with contributors and working with pitches I request stories that are timely, like of this time, but not time sensitive. I don’t want something that’s tied to a 24-hour news cycle.

Symbolia Interior ArtISC: What are the kinds of stories that you like to tell? What sorts of stories can readers expect when they start flipping through an issue of Symbolia?

EP: Each issue revolves around a theme that allows us to weave several disparate threads together and I do like to think of Symbolia as providing stunning unexpected stories from around the globe. Our audience is international. The US makes up about 40% of our audience, but we also have readers in Canada, Germany, France, India, and South Africa, so for us, global makes sense.

We want to be connecting people in a community around the world, around the news, and around Symbolia. It’s really a democratic thing. Comics can work for people with many different reading levels and language facility. For us, we do publish our work in English, but it does play well with people who are learning English or don’t necessarily have the strongest grasp yet. They can catch emotion, they can catch situation.

ISC: How do you connect with creators? How do people tell their stories?

EP: It’s open submission. If you go to Symboliamag.com/pitchsymbolia, but it’s also in the side navigation. We’re currently accepting pitches for our Defense Issue and an issue called True Crime, which is going to be pretty exciting. We pair journalists with comics creators and some of our more successful pieces have happened that way, which is really exciting. We also with people like Dan Carino, Sarah Glidden, Susie Cagle, who’s a full-time reporter and illustrator. It runs the gauntlet.

Oh and we pay! They’re not amazing rates but part of me launching this publication was, I have too many friends that are artists, too many friends that are cartoonists that get asked to do things for free all the time. Our rates, right now we’re a startup and we’re growing but we pay and we pay on time.

ISC: Right on, well can you explain your business model?

Symbolia Interior Art 2EP: Issues are $1.99 for subscribers, $2.99 off the newsstands if you just want to get one and be done. This most recent issue is the first issue that’s been for pay so it’s been interesting to see where that’s coming from. We also offer a yearlong subscription for $11.99, so you can get six issues there.

We are currently working with subscribers and we’re going to be running ads. We have ads in our latest issue. It terms of revenue streams, looking at our business model, we have multiple different channels that we’re using: One is subscriptions (content purchasing across the platform), two is advertising, three is merchandising, and four is membership programs. So thinking about the added benefits and what are the different things that we can offer to our very dedicated community of subscribers to sweeten the pot for them?

How much should we charge for a one-on-one training to learn how to do comics journalism? Would we run a weekend long workshop, like The Sequential Artists Workshop or Center for Cartoon Studies to specifically teach people how to do digital comics? These are all different sources we’re drawing from and the overarching proponent for all of this is here at Symbolia, we also want to function as a consulting service, a consultancy, not just for publishers but for creators themselves. To help them find avenues for distribution and to connect with new audiences.

ISC: From your vantage point on the digital comics frontier, what are you excited about? What do you expect from the future?

EP: So what’s interesting is that before I started running my own magazine I was a strategist and worked for a publishing organization and helping them think about what the future was and what was happening out there. That was a really valuable roll, but one of the reasons I left it is that I missed working on the ground. Part of the challenge is that now keeping up is so hard! That said, I’m so fascinated by the People’s E-Book project. I think their Kickstarter campaign is closing in the next week (two days left to donate!). They are specifically trying to create an ebook publishing platform for anyone to use. With a specific mind toward brining zines to the masses, which is totally up my alley.

In terms of different creators that I love and am really excited to see work from them, Tom Hart and Leela Corman out of The Sequential Artists Workshop, they both do fantastic stuff and think about comics and pedagogy in a way that’s just fascinating.

In terms of platforms for publishing digitally, I’ve kind of been watching Vook and am very interested with what the Atavist is doing with their white label software solution.

ISC: Well I think that’s all I got. Anything else you’d like to say?

EP: We’re really excited to be a part of this community and really looking forward to building partnerships with other publishing organizations and creators as we go along. We have big things planned.

Erin Polgreen is co-founder of Symbolia Magazine. You can follow her on Twitter @ErinPolgreen. You can get all the official Symbolia news straight from the source at Symboliamag.com.

Want to check out Symbolia for yourself? You can get the iPad app right here! Not really feeling the whole app thing? No worries, PDF versions of the magazine are also available!

Web and Digital Comics: Wrangling the Revenue Stream

graphiclyWhy aren’t more webcomic creators taking advantage of digital comics? Tablets, smart phones, eReaders, the way people consume comics is changing and I feel like the brave new future of comics is rife with digital devices. So digital comics should be worth investing in, whether that be learning the technology yourself, or paying Graphicly or some other group to take care of it for you.

However the plunge into the digital comics pond isn’t as easy as 1, 2, 3. Seeing as I’m not embedded in the industry, I went to talk to an expert on digital comics, Becky Jewell of Graphicly, to see what she thinks about the webcomic to digital comic movement. In the following quick interview she illuminates some motivations and sticking points in the transition process, and I think that when we more clearly realize the problems, we might more easily navigate to workable solutions.

I Speak Comics: So Becky, seeing as how webcomics are already so perfectly tailored for digital readers, why haven’t more creators migrated to the digital comics arena?

Becky Jewell: Some webcomics folks have launched their books on Graphicly, sometimes with the free webstore option, other times, with our paid ebooks (iOS, Kindle Fire) option. Here are some webcomic books that we have running now:

Cover of Gunnerkrigg Court
Gunnerkrigg Court

Think Weasel

Gunnerkrigg Court

Ellerbisms – A Sporadic Diary Comic

Pushing comics to ebooks can be seen as too expensive for some creators, though at Graphicly we are working on making the process cheaper, easier, and faster.

As the technology matures,  more creators will not only step into the ebooks realm, but also creators will be able to fully optimize this marketplace. Overhead alone may be the one thing preventing ebooks from exploding for indies.

ISC: Is it just money though? The extra exposure and extra income seems like it might be worth that large initial investment.

BJ:  It’s worth it! Though the returns can be mid-to-long term. Ebooks can create another venue of exposure for webcomics folks and generate passive income, but not many indie webcomic people are on the boat yet because the industry is so new – which can make it a bit tricky to navigate.

The key is that revenue and fanship both take time to build. Making an epub of your book and putting it up on Amazon can take an hour or less using Graphicly, but getting 7,000 fans to buy the book? Not easy. This can take years to build. Having multiple venues of exposure can help, however. You never know if a potential fan of yours loves reading on Android or on Nook, or on your website, or paper only!

What’s cool about ereaders is that you can tag your self-published books as well. So, if your comic is about a cat who is a nighttime superhero, you can tag it with ‘cat’ ‘superhero’ ect. The search engines for Amazon and iBooks are not yet as saturated as Google — as a result, an indie comic book about a cat superhero would have better chances of appearing immediately on an e-reader if a random fan just writes ‘cat’ into the comics search.

Kindle Fire is also *Just* adding a new comics section, and the same with iBooks. These marketplaces are only beginning to realize that people love to read comics on their devices. It’s odd that it took them so long, but the storefronts are way more in tune with their products than they were one year ago.

 ——

So some creators have migrated their material, but not a ton. It seems like the chief barrier is money, but there are some interesting things on the horizon, and I especially like the idea of tagging your work for SEO purposes. I’m going to try to talk to some webcomic creators in the near future and get their take on digital comics, but if you think you know what’s up or have any thoughts regarding webcomics, digital comics, or anything else, leave a comment!

Becky Jewell is the queen of public relations and customer support at Graphicly.com. You can follow her on Twitter @beckyjewell and she’s got some incredible art on display, and for sale, at her website

Talking with Tim Gibson About his Cutting Edge Webcomic, Moth City

Moth City Poster
Welcome to Moth City

Hey everyone, a little while ago Tim Gibson let me know about his incredible online serial, Moth City, but then I got busy and I never really moved on the story. Shame on me, because everyone should be scoping out this webcomic.

I got back in contact with Tim and he was kind enough to answer some of my questions about Moth City, digital comics, and the future of the medium. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the interview!

I Speak Comics: Before we get into this, would you mind giving us a quick rundown of Moth City? How did you get started? What’s it all about? Where are you hoping to take it?

Tim Gibson: First off, Moth City is not the online comic for everyone. People keep their motivations and their undies well hidden. It’s a world filled with bastards, guns and kung fu, rather than superpowers.

It is Crime/Mystery story set in the 1930’s Orient during the Chinese Civil War. Revolution is everywhere; Mao’s communists are really upsetting the power balance in China and the disruption has spread into the small island-state of the title.

Moth City is this small island where massive weapons factories straddle the ruins of old temples and homes. It’s run by a domineering Texan; Governor McCaw. The guy is a total prick, but I love him anyway. He controls the place with an iron fist, even his daughter is kept under lock and key, but that’s all going to change.

Every Monday a set of pages go up at www.mothcity.com and the panels reveal themselves, change themselves and play out at the reader’s request. I’d encourage your readers to click the link above and check it out, it’s easier to see than to describe.

As opposed to the big boys of the game, I don’t have the money to get other comic creatives on-board, so I’ve dedicated over a year to its production. Readers will be able to get the full experience online (for free) for the four seasons that I have planned, and we’ll see where it goes from there. I was lucky enough to get some local arts funding from Creative New Zealand to make it all possible.

ISC: I noticed that you used to work as an illustrator in the movie industry, and you’ve got some very cool flicks under your belt (Avatar, District 9, Tintin), so that being said, why comics?

Yeah. I love movies, and it’s always great to work on projects of that scale. I stole some of my best stuff from the designers I worked with on those things. For I while I was even working on the George Miller ‘Justice League’ film which was pretty special for a comics geek.

That said, it can be very easy to get distracted in the craft of illustration or design in those situations. You could wake up one morning and realise you’re five times better at drawing, but haven’t told any of your own stories yet. Like you’re permanently in training, polishing your skills just to further other people’s dreams.

Moth City is where I get to use my skills, work ethic, and time on my own ambitions – a great story, intriguing characters and a retro-genre piece with a twist.

Picture of Moth City Cityscape
The Exotic Locales of Moth City!

ISC: One thing about Moth City that stands out is that it seems to be designed specifically for a digital audience. Panels grow and shrink, word balloons and captions disappear as readers move through the narrative, and at times it almost feels like you’re reading an interactive book. What was the thought process behind the Moth City digital format?

TG: I really want to use drama to my advantage in Moth City, and whether that comes from character beats or plot movements, working with digital stories gives the creator an ounce more control over this.

Digital comics enable artists to work more like film directors; moments in time can be drawn out or compressed. Traditionally this was done with panel size and layout so working back into the same panel, or revealing panels one-by-one just adds to that. It’s an additional tool of rhythm.

There are moments at www.mothcity.com where a panel will zoom in, revealing a new piece of art, as McCaw’s daughter is being berated and shamed by her father’s guest. I really wanted to emphasize that moment for the reader, extend its meaning beyond a single panel with dialogue.

Moth City Explosion
Ready for Some Explosive Fun?

And you can imagine the effect this focus has on suspense or horror scenes. Panels where we can witness that moment of realisation or dread with a character… there’s horror stuff coming up, that was a *lot* of fun to play with.

Mark Waid and Balak have both discussed the effects of digital storytelling. Please allow me to put paraphrase (sorry guys)… Waid believes that digital can surprise readers more often; in the middle of pages, even in the middle of a panel if you want, as opposed to the top left corner of every second page. That’s definitely something I’m conscious of. As a reader I’m terrible at letting my peripheral vision ruin a story beat.

Balak believes that there is also collusion between the artist and reader in digital comics. There’s some responsibility, a subconscious-belief that the reader *made* that story event happen by simply clicking ‘next’. It is a less passive experience than reading a traditional comic.

I intend on putting my readers in some very dramatic situations. If you have been reading Moth City so far, you’ve already killed a man, jumped out of a building and being blown to smithereens. And that’s just the first half of Season One.

ISC: It seems like a lot of web comics end up collecting their work into print volumes, but Moth City is built a little bit differently than your standard web comic. Can we expect a Moth City book in the future?

If people want it, sure. I’m going to let the fans dictate my financial investment in printing. I’m currently looking at digital storefront options like Amazon etc. I’d love to get Moth City into Comixology as well (but they seem to be a bit exclusive for now).

Sample-Page-3

A print version of Moth City would be great. I create the artwork at a really high resolution. Like, stupid high, and it looks fantastic printed out. The print experience would be great, different, but effective in it’s own way. Every time I plan a page, I work out where I’ll add some digital-love, but I then make sure that the print version of the same pages works tool.

I’d say working this way adds about 30% more effort to every page than if I was just creating straight print comics.

ISC: How do you see the future of comics? Does it look something like Moth City? Is digital the way to go, or do you think there’s still something to be said for holding a physical copy in your hand?

TG: I think your readers are at the early-adopter end of the bell-curve. Are there enough people with enough passion to pull more creatives into producing that kind of work? I hope so. It’s a lot of fun to produce digital comics.

For me, it’s not really pixels vs paper, it’s just a few extra brushes in the story toolbox. Some people will like reading that way, some artists will like that level of creative control, and others won’t.

Of course, if the story is no good it doesn’t matter does it?

Tim Gibson is the man behind Moth City, an incredible webcomic with new material every Monday and Wednesday.

You can get the latest and greatest Moth City news by following MothCityInsider on Twitter. Be sure you like the Moth City Facebook Page, and check out some beautiful original art over at the Moth City Pinterest Board!

Talking Digital Comics With Annie MacCool’s Joe White

Annie's Got Her Guns
Annie’s Got Her Guns

Joe White, author and artist of Annie MacCool, was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to talk to me about his book and his experiences in digital comics. The guy’s got a full-time job, is finishing school, and he’s got time to write and draw a comic? If that’s not dedication then I don’t know what is. Now let’s get this puppy started!

I Speak Comics: Tell us a little about Annie MacCool

Joe White: “Annie MacCool” is my own take on Lycanthropy, Irish Mythology and my hometown of Milton, Massachusetts. It is the story of a quiet, picturesque New England town with an age-old secret. Werewolves. They live in the Blue Hills. A truce between the Townsfolk and the Werewolves have kept things peaceful for the last 50 or so years. The occasional hiker or roving band of teenagers will go missing from time to time, but for the most part, Man and Beast are making nice as neighbors.

Until Annie MacCool shows up. Her strange accent can be traced to County Galway in the Southwest of Ireland, and she is the last in the line of the Irish Warrior King Finn MacCool, a fabled slayer of beasts with a fierce Battle Frenzy ability. Annie’s sole mission in life is the eradication of all Werewolves, and Milton is just one more stop on the map for her. However, it might just be her last stop as interference from a well-meaning State Trooper thwarted her plan of attack and set in motion a chain of events that may well lead to absolute devastation.

ISC: Very cool stuff. So what motivated you to create a comic? Is it just a hobby or something more?

JW: I’ve been drawing since I was very young and my creative life has taken me down a few winding paths. Annie MacCool was originally written as a feature film script, but I didn’t really want to let the story just sit on a shelf so I decided to put pencil to paper and create my first ever comic book. I have several other scripts that I plan on converting as well, I had such a blast making “Annie” and I want to keep this effort going.

Nearly Finished...
Nearly Finished…

ISC: Why go digital instead of print?

JW: It was the most readily available option for me. I work full-time and attend school at night for 3D animation so I don’t really have much time to be knocking on publishers doors and sending out submissions.

ISC: Did you ever think about turning Annie into a web comic?

JW: Initially I started Annie MacCool as a weekly web comic and published ten pages of a scene from the script for every Saturday morning in October of 2011. Here’s a link for that segment: http://anniemaccool.tumblr.com/page/2. Ultimately I wanted to publish a more traditional 20+ page comic issue, so that was my October 2012 project and now here we are with issue #1. Oh an I want to give props to Boston artist Dennis P. Burke for inking the initial web comic in October 2011.

ISC: Why did you choose Graphicly as opposed to other services?

JW: I chose Graphicly because they allowed the most flexibility and control for the creator. The only trick was I had to buy my own ISBN codes. I would up buying a batch of 10 so looks like I have 9 more books to publish. Amazon Createspace will get the ISBN for you, but you cannot sell it anywhere else BUT Amazon. Comixology was still beta testing their self publishing, and they promised all kinds of obstacles and roadblocks in terms of “review boards” and “approval processes”. I uploaded my .pdf to Graphicly and was live within two weeks on the web, and in iTunes and Kindle two weeks later.

ISC: Which path did you choose to publish through? Web, Ebooks, or Apps? Was it cost-effective? Are you seeing any return on your initial investment?

JW: I published on all of them, actually. Graphicly offered a flat rate for the distribution and it was a great deal. I’m still waiting on the Nook and Kobo but I’m live on the Graphicly site, Facebook, iBookstore and Kindle. The sales data isn’t spectacular, I’ll admit, but I’ve learned that marketing is a whole new ball of wax.

It’s one thing to “hope to go viral” but you can’t count on that as a business plan. I’ve taken to old-fashioned one on one sales pitching with my trusty posters and flyers. I also hope that adding more issues and titles will bring a larger audience, as I’m sure people are more apt to get into a story if they know there’s more coming.

Fully Colored!
Fully Colored!

ISC: In your eyes what are some of the strengths and weaknesses of Graphicly? Digital comics in general?

JW: I can’t say enough wonderful things about Graphicly, I’ve swapped emails with everyone from tech support to the owner himself, and they’re all super friendly and extremely passionate about what they do. The strengths lie in the direct-to-audience connection for the creator, which is a great freedom. This goes both ways, and sometimes without the proper editorial support a story could well fail to meet its true potential.

The other issue is market saturation. There is TONS of stuff out there, so how do you put something out there that’s going to be a signal instead of more noise? That’s the artist’s perpetual challenge. I feel that as long as you’re staying true to yourself, telling a great story and doing it consistently and persistently, you will hit your stride.

ISC: Could being a digital comic creator become a career? Where do you see the future of the medium?

JW: Gosh I hope so! It’s really a combination of all the right elements coming into play, from the content to the marketing to finding an audience for it. As long as the power stays on, digital comics can be very successful. I will say this though, I do love going to my local comic book store. It’s a bit of a sacred ritual and you don’t get to do that on your iPad or Kindle.

Joe White studies 3D Animation at Boston University’s Center for Digital Imaging Arts in Waltham, MA. He’s lived in Boston most of his life but spent a few years in Los Angeles, where he hopes to return after school.  He plans on making awesome stuff that people love until he’s put into the ground. Or space. Space would be cool.

You can check out all of Joe’s projects at http://www.optimusmediagroup.com and you can follow the man of many talents on Twitter @mightyjoewhite. Also go like the official Annie MacCool Facebook Page be sure to check out AnnieMacCool.com to pick up your own digital copy of this solid indy title! 

An Awesome Digital Comics Interview With Graphicly’s Becky Jewell

Right before the lovely Thanksgiving holiday Becky Jewell, Graphicly’s comic book guru, and I had a nice little talk about Graphicly and their awesome digital publishing services. For anyone who’s been keeping track, all of the individual creators I’ve been interviewing have worked with Graphicly to some extent, so if you’re thinking about diving into the self-publishing comics scene, keep reading, Becky lays it all on the line!

I Speak Comics: Hey Becky, so for those readers that aren’t aware, Graphicly is all about helping creators publish their books digitally. You got your start in comics, but now you’re looking to make the jump into the larger book market. What sort of options do you offer?

Becky Jewell: We have three major services that we offer to both established publishers and indie creatives.

1. Our free service puts books on our web store at www.graphicly.com/store as well as our game/app on Facebook. Creators have full power over deciding how their books are priced on our store, and they can also panelize books as they choose, which offers fans an elegant reading experience.

2. Our second-tier service places books on Apple’s iBookstore, Amazon’s Kindle Fire, and the Nook. This service is our $150-per-book model, and it also includes the free option as well.

All we need is a PDF, and we convert this PDF to epub files which are compatible with these major three marketplaces.

3. We also offer an app-creation service which develops an app ‘shell’ which houses a series of books or issues. Readers can subscribe to these apps and the newest issues will be automatically delivered to their device each month.

The Walking Dead on Graphicly

ISC: With regards to your guys’ services, can you tell me which is the most popular?

BJ: Oh gosh, our most popular that we do the most sales from it would probably be our middle service, with a tie of highest sales between iBookstore or Kindle Fire. And web – web would be up there for very popular series, like The Walking Dead.

ISC: Well I’m really interested in the independent comic creators, the guys that don’t have a big back catalog of their own work, what can you offer these new creators?

BJ: Our model has shifted across the years. We used to offer a Graphicly app which was available on Android and Apple devices, and comic fans could purchase indie books through it.

But since our model shifted to the epub model, what we offer now is instead of having indie creators on a tiny app called Graphicly that nobody knows about, creators can have their book on Amazon and they can have it on Barnes and Nobles’ Nook, and the Apple iBookstore.

Some indies were a little bit recalcitrant about the whole epub business in the beginning. They were asking, “Why don’t you have an indie app? Why aren’t you catering to indies more?” and now I think that indie publishers are beginning to understand the benefit of having their books on these large platforms. It’s good for many indies because it puts their work right in the comic book section of Amazon, placing their books right alongside big titles.

Part of our day-to-day jobs at Graphicly is taking care of indie creators, and at the same time taking care of larger titles from DC and Image. That’s the benefit of our services – everyone is given the same distribution powers. I think that some independent creators have been a little bit hesitant about it for some reason. It may be because it can be very hard to sell that many books to recoup our initial conversion cost.

ISC: When creators decide to publish through your Ebooks service, the step up from web publishing, which platforms do you send it out to?

BJ: Well the big three are iBookstore, and that’s on i0s devices –  iPad, iPhone- and that’s very popular. I didn’t actually realize how popular it was until we started using it. Then there’s Kindle Fire, Nook from Barnes and Nobles, a Canadian reader called Kobo.

ISC: And do customers get the web service connections as well as the eBook markets? Because it looks like the Web Service actually hits some markets that the eBooks doesn’t.

BJ: Yes! Our web service is always free and it’s actually covered under the eBooks conversion process. So unless someone absolutely does not want their comic on the web for some reason, that is always part of the package.

The web service makes books available on the web and through a widget that can be embedded anywhere. This, as you may be able to guess, covers a lot of marketplaces.

ISC: Now let’s talk about the apps. I’m a little confused on what you guys are offering. I imagine that this “branded experience” is actually, instead of people going to a Graphicly app that no one’s ever heard about, they get their own app that no one’s ever heard about.

BJ: That’s quite on target, though it all depends on how you market yourself! I think that it’s very hard for indie creators to develop the app and then have people find it because the way to find it on an Android device or Apple Newsstand, where it’s housed, you have to search directly for it. So, if you’re looking for an indie book, you have to know the exact name of the book in order to find it. It can be advantageous for some creators who have a lot of fans, or especially ravenous fans.

The app model works best for larger pubs or pubs who market widely. For instance, we publish The Walking Dead through its own app and Game of Thrones has its own as well, and both of these titles, which already have huge followings, definitely benefit from it, gaining large subscriber bases and fan follows. It’s a very elegant experience, and a lot of our indie creators who have purchased it really seem  to like it, I just think that it’s a little difficult for some people to search for the apps and find them correctly.

ISC: Now this is interesting, you mentioned Game of Thrones, now doesn’t Dynamite publish those books? What’s the relationship between Graphicly and Dynamite? Wouldn’t they just have their own Dynamite app?

BJ: Some of these comic book publishing companies don’t have conversion houses that convert their pdf or digital files into epub files, which is a very difficult and finicky process. We’ve been doing it for a year, and it takes a team of 20 of us all day every day to figure it out.

That’s our service. That’s our model and that’s what we do for people. I think that companies like Image and Dynamite might open their own conversion services within their publishing house, but it would take a lot of technology, time, and a lot of specialized web developers, which we have, and we’ve grown over the years. It’s very specialized work.

ISC: What do creators think about Graphicly? Have you gotten any specific feedback from your clients?

Becky Cloonan’s Wolves

BJ: One person who really understood our model is Becky Cloonan. She’s an awesome artist and she’s used our model and our service to distribute a few of her smaller books through the web and epubs. One of her books on Graphicly, Wolves, has done well.

We have creators like Becky who really do understand what we’re trying to do and they take one look at our service and they’re like “I get it. This is valuable to me.” Additionally, they’re able to use our conversion tools and they can modify the experience of their own artwork. They can take their comic book and put it in our system and sort of orchestrate the panelizations and the sequence of the reading. We allow our creators to take full responsibility and full directorship of that. A lot of creative people really enjoy that.

ISC: A lot of creators use your services, maybe not to make money on their comics, but to create a space as a sort of online portfolio. I’ve talked to creators who see Graphicly’s web service as essentially a marketing tool. How do you guys feel about that?

BJ: We definitely have noticed that our webstore is more of a promotional tool than a sales tool. I think what’s helpful about the webstore and the service being on the web is our tool allows them to see the analytics and the breakdown of sales through each platform. Creators can take a look and notice that they sold 4 books on Kindle Fire, 3 on the Nook, and 7 on the web. I think that’s a useful tool as far as testing the waters for their fanbase.

What many creators may end up doing is discovering that they have a large digital followership and then they’ll print their book, or use the Graphicly web book as a tie-in with a Kickstarter campaign. More and more creators of ours seem to be saying: “If this book is successful on the internet and I can get enough people to like it there, maybe it’ll be worth printing, or worth sending on to Amazon.”

ISC: How do you feel about digital comics as a medium? Where is it going?

BJ: Well for Graphicly, we definitely see digital comics as a niche genre that’s allowed us to move into publishing books in general online and through eReading devices. I think that the comics experience, digitally, is very fun for many people. I think a lot of people enjoy the digital social experience around comics. It’s just fun! However, there’s still the part where comics fans enjoy the retail experience of comics – actually going in to a store, flipping through books, chatting with that weird comic book guy. You know.

Where I see it in the future? Right now, ebooks are often seen as a mostly supplemental source of income for publishers who have successful hard copy books, though this isn’t always true. Books in general have been selling a lot on eReading devices. Just recently, ‘hardcover’ books on Kindle Fire outsold the same books in brick-and-mortar retailers. This year was the first time that ever happened. Even though comics are niche, I think they can get to this point as well. And that is very exciting.

There’s also enhanced reading experiences on the horizon for comics. We’ve already seen motion comics and enhanced books, but I think there is a huge opening for enhanced comics on ereading devices to be explored.

ISC: We have our comics on Graphicly, but where are you guys going? I know you started in comics, but with digital books growing by leaps and bound every year, are you looking to move more into that market? Is there any commitment to the comic creator crowd?

BJ: I think while we have a deep commitment to the comic book fanbase and world, we are definitely moving toward the larger book market. But what our widget, what our tool is good at doing, is managing images through the web, and orchestrating an elegant experience of large areas of artwork. Naturally, we got our start in comics, but we’re looking to move on to children’s books and cookbooks. We look at novels occasionally, but again, our tool was built from comics and it manages images beautifully. It is made for art, and it makes art look fantastic.

Our company is very very dedicated to comics – we love comics, our sister site is iFanboy.com, and many of our employees who have been here since day one don’t know much about the larger book world, but we are excited to branch out into new territory.

Our CEO is very progressive with how he thinks about the future of our company. He sees us moving toward providing conversion services for the larger book world, and really just helping creators with distributing any book, anywhere, instantly. We don’t consider ourselves to be a competitor with Comixology. We’re for everybody and all kinds of books. We are sort of a whole new animal, but we got our start in comics and we are endlessly grateful for that.

Becky Jewell is the queen of public relations and customer support at Graphicly.com. You can follow her on Twitter @beckyjewell and she’s got some incredible art on display, and for sale, at her website

Talking Comics With Toronto Music Maven Sara Simms: The Future Prophecy

This past week I was lucky enough to talk to Sara Simms, a champion of Toronto’s music scene. Just recently she and her sister released The Future Prophecy, a vision of a post apocalyptic future where evil record companies harness the power of music to control the masses. So how did a DJ get into comics? Well you’ll have to read on to find out!

I Speak Comics: First off why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background, you’re a DJ right?

Sara Simms: I’ve been DJing for over ten years professionally, and have a background as a hiphop/battle DJ and turntablist. About five years ago, I was inspired to begin playing techno and edm, and decided to change my DJ alias.   Since then, I’ve played around the world, and rocked in Japan with fans.

Sara Simm’s Super Heroic Alter Ego

ISC: Tell us a little about The Future Prophecy.

SS: The Ancient Prophets of the Underground foresaw a Great War written in their Score of Infinity.  It would be the Final Chapter of Man.  They created a blank score, on which a new future could be written by The Chosen One…

The Future Prophecy takes place in Toronto, after The Last Great War.  Bogtown Records, an evil musical corporation are using negative sound waves to control the city’s population and create their mutant CACU army.  Decklyn Dubs, a technological wizard knows the time has come to find Sara Simms, the Chosen One who must pass the musical tests that lie before the fabled The Future Prophecy.

ISC: What motivated you to create a comic? How’d you get into the comic book world?

SS: When I returned home from a tour through Berlin, my sister Melle and I wanted to create a new project that combined together music, art, DJ culture, technology and an epic story.  Melle has a real passion for graphic novels, and had ideas for the main concepts in the story.  We began to write The Future Prophecy, and based our characters on DJs and musicians who we encountered in Toronto’s vibrant music scene.

ISC: Why did you choose to publish through Graphicly as opposed to other services? Why go digital instead of print?

SS: I liked the fact that Graphicly catered to independent graphic novel and comic book creators, and offers distribution to major retailers like iBookstore, and Amazon.  I also like their Zoom feature, which allows you to look at each panel of a comic individually.  We chose to publish digitally, as our world is moving towards a mobile-based society, and this has impacted the way we read and purchase literature.

ISC: In your eyes what are some of the strengths and weaknesses of digital comics?

SS: You can read them on your mobile device or tablet anywhere.  A graphic novel that is well designed looks stunning on an iPad.

Sara’s Partner in Crime – Melle

ISC: What are your plans for The Future Prophecy after Arcanum? Do you think the book will ever make it to print?

SS: We are planning a launch party for the series on Saturday December 1st at The Mod Club, which features the DJs and musicians from the graphic novel performing as their superhero and villain characters.  After ‘Arcanum’, we plan to release the second issue; and continue the story for our readers.  All of the forthcoming issues of ‘The Future Prophecy’ will be accompanied by a song composed by the story’s characters, intertwining our story with a rich musical soundtrack.

We just published a print version of ‘Arcanum’, which includes additional bonus pages, and character development sketches.  It’s available for sale here:  http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/432438/follow and will be available on our website, http://www.thefutureprophecy.com. The first issue is available for iBookstore and Amazon Kindle as a free download: http://www.thefutureprophecy.com/read/
http://graphicly.com/sara-simms-productions/the-future-prophecy/1

ISC: Anything you want to say to fans?

SS: Thank you for reading and supporting The Future Prophecy.  If you enjoy the story, please keep checking back in with our website for project updates.  You can stay up to date with us by following us on Twitter and Facebook.  The journey is just beginning…
https://twitter.com/sarasimms
Http://www.facebook.com/thefutureprophecy
Http://www.facebook.com/djsarasimms

Right now The Future Prophecy is giving away cool free prizes in a Sweepstakes…prizes like a Pioneer DJ DDJ-WeGo, a Play Records prize pack, Audio/Video Courses from Witz Education and tickets to our Official Launch Party. Enter to win here: http://on.fb.me/SIbv9u  Hurry, our Sweepstakes close on Nov. 27th!

If you enjoy The Future Prophecy, please share it with a friend!  Tag us on Twitter as #tfp

You can find out more about The Future Prophecy at its official website – http://www.thefutureprophecy.com – and be sure to check out Sara’s official website – http://www.sarasimms.com – for more music madness!