Tag Archives: digital comics

Back and Better than Ever

It’s been a while since my last post but I’ve been hella busy. I hope you can forgive me. That being said, I’ve got some cool news for you guys that I’m excited to get out there. Firstly, I’m a master! That’s right, on May 5th I graduated with a Masters degree in Digital Rhetoric and Professional Writing from Michigan State University! Where did the past two years go? I just want to give a shout out to all my awesome, intelligent, and supportive classmates and professors who helped me out along the way. You’re all tall glasses of alright.

Second thing, remember my interview with Symbolia’s Erin Polgreen? Well I was so smitten with what they were doing over there I asked if I could help them out. They totally said yes! Now I’m a Digital Fellow working on all kinds of cool stuff, copy editing, social media, secret fun projects, the whole deal. You can check out the announcement over at Symbolia’s Tumblr and while you’re at it, if you’ve got a tablet device, why don’t you check out some issues and see if you’re into the mag? It’s pretty righteous so if you get a chance you absolutely should!

Oh and did I mention that Symbolia’s other co-creator Joyce Rice did this awesome illustration of me? Sweet mother of grud it’s awesome!

Illustration of me
It’s a me!

I’ve got more awesome stuff coming down the pipeline, though I may be moving this blog somewhere else in the near future, but no worries, I’ll be talking to you soon. Stay classy.

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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.

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.

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Marvel’s New Beta MDCU Reader

I’m really excited about Marvel’s new digital reader, and even more excited about the fact that they are soliciting feedback from their subscribers. It’s one thing to roll out new technology, but it’s another to ask your users what they want to see, what they don’t like, and what could make the digital comics experience that much more awesome. As of this writing it’s unclear, at least to me, whether or not there were specific issues they want to address or if they just wanteded to upgrade a relatively old reading technology. It might be latter, because this new reader doesn’t require flash, and they’re trying to streamline the MDCU for a growing host of mobile devices.

Also keep in mind that we’re talking about a beta and that the issues I’m bringing up here are by no means an indication of the final product!

Picture of Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited
The MDCU!

Wait, you don’t know what the MDCU is? Ok let me break this down for you. Basically, for a yearly fee, I believe right now it’s around $60, you are granted access to Marvel’s massive digital library. They have thousands upon thousands of awesome comics for you to peruse and read and new books are being added every day. However this service is only available with a dedicated internet connection and you don’t get to keep any of the comics or download them to your machine, but I like to think of it as a very cool magazine subscription.

But hey, we’re here to talk about the beta, so let’s dig right in shall we?

Navigation
For me, navigation is key in readers. We take it for granted while we’re reading, but there is a very definite, artistic, almost scientific way through which artists guide our eye through a book. Thus readers need to be able to replicate this unconscious movement on digital devices. However, because we are so often reading these books on devices much smaller than the printed stuff we’re used to, problems sometimes arise. So how do we move through the beta?

Essentially you navigate through the comic by either clicking the big arrows that appear on either side of the screen when you over your mouse above a comic page, or you can use the left and right arrows on your keyboard. I personally enjoying using the keyboard because it’s a little less distracting. At this point in the beta, oftentimes when you move your mouse across the screen the navigation toolbars show up, and while they are translucent, they’re still very obvious, which like I said, can be a little distracting.

Showing Toolbars in the MDCU Beta
Not super distracting, but they are there.

The reader starts you out in 2-page view, which is always nice because that’s how you read comics normally, however the up and down arrows, which in the previous reader had been relegated to moving the user into and out of the Smart Panel view, no longer do anything. Now the Smart Panel option is something that you trigger using your mouse. You have to hover your mouse at the bottom right part of the screen click on the opening book icon, and then change the view manually, though I’m sure this will be streamlined in the future.

There are three different views available to readers: 1-page view, 2-page, and Smart Panels and it can be tedious switching between them. In most cases I went from 2-page view to Smart Panels, because text can be a little difficult to read on the big page because of my smaller laptop screen.

Showing Text Cut Off in MDCU
See? Text gets a tad cut off.

As of this writing the Smart Panels aren’t displaying all of the relevant information every time in every panel. I’m going to assume that they’re still working on figuring out the exact dimensions for each comic, but sometimes you can miss out on important aspects of the narrative because they are off-screen.

This wasn’t such an issue in the previous incarnation because you could easily hit the down arrow to move you out to the full size, or you could move the page using the trackpad, which would keep you zoomed in but allow you to navigate the zoomyness.

While we are talking about navigation, one thing that I noticed that’s different is the page-finder at the bottom of the screen. In the reader’s previous incarnation, as the pages loaded you could click below the screen and open the page finder, which had thumbnails of all the pages. If you had to close out of an issue, say your boss was coming by, the page finder’s thumbnails gave users an easy way to get back to the good stuff instead of clicking the right side of the screen or the right arrow a bunch of times.

That’s no longer available, or hasn’t been implemented as of this writing. Now it’s been replaced by a white bar with white boxes that indicated the pages. If you know generally how are you were into the book this is fine and you can slide the red little slider along the pages and stop anywhere, picking up where you left off. Also it should be noted that there’s less delay when moving through the comics this time around, so it’s easier to just click or key your way to where you need to be.

Probably the most glaring omission at this juncture is the fact that you can’t just immediately read the next issue from the comic you’re in. When you reach the end of the book, instead of providing you with a menu of subsequent issues like in the last reader, it just brings up the current issue’s information. Before you could just make with a little clickity click and you went right to the next titillating tale and that was great . I really do hope they include this little bit in the final version of the reader.

Last Panel of MDCU Comic
I WANT TO KEEP READING YOUR MARVELOUS STORIES!

What’s new though, and something I totally appreciate, is the fact that they’ve integrated social media into the mix. It shows in the menu after clicking through the last panel, which is nice because it doesn’t pester you beforehand. It also allows you to Google+, Facebook, and Twitter – a pretty acceptable assemblage I’d say.

Right now the reader is shaping up to look pretty nice. I don’t know any dates, or when Marvel plans to roll this bad boy out, but I’m excited to see what they come up with. And last but not least, if you’re an MDCU subscriber you should definitely check this thing out. Let Marvel know what you think! They want our feedback!

Some Problems with Digital Comics

We’ve already talked about the strengths and weaknesses of digital comics. However we’ve mostly talked about the medium from the perspective of the creator, not necessarily from that of the reader or the user. One of the things that I’m very interested in is how publishers and creators utilize technology to tell their stories. Ereaders, tablets, web based readers, we experience digital comics through these devices and there are problems with both the content and the devices that need to be addressed if we want a more seamless digital comic reading experience.

This video that I’ve made, it teaches how to read a comic, for the uninitiated, but then it moves to understanding how to read digital comics and the differences between the two mediums. It also highlights some of the problems that I see with digital comics, specifically related to the technology that we use to view them. But don’t take my word for it, watch the video!