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Analyzing Digital Comics Through Interviews – Part 2

Alright yesterday I did part one of this analysis which you can read here. It went over digital comic creator motivations, and what they believed some of the strengths of the medium are. But because we want to be fair and balanced, we’ve definitely got to talk about the weaknesses inherent in digital comics.

If you haven’t read the interviews that I’m talking about, well what are you waiting for?
Christ Charlton of Assailant Comics
Michael Koch and Dimented Realities
Ed Dippolito and Frank N. Stein
Sara Simms and The Future Prophecy
Joe White and Annie MacCool

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

So Much Material Out There: It makes sense that, because of how easy it is to get a digital comic up, there’s tons of material out there for readers. How do creators set themselves above the rest? How do they make their comic stand out? Creators have the same problem in the print domain, but I think the issue is compounded on the Internet. It’s definitely a major hurdle out their for neophytes.

Must Learn Ins and Outs of an Entirely New Market: Do you want your comic to be successful on the web? How are you marketing yourself? Are you leveraging the right social media platforms? How does your website look? Are you responding to fan emails and blog comments? Do you have an active Twitter profile? Are you meeting new creators in digital spaces? Are you constantly networking networking networking?

Not only is the internet on 24/7, but it’s very “choose your own adventure.” There are no rules for guaranteed success, and when experience is the best teacher, you’re bound to fail quite a few times while coming to grips with this new system.

Where are the Profits? Where indeed! Unless you’re a well-known comics creators, or someone with an absolutely rabid following, it’s not likely that you’re going to be seeing a steady flow of cash from your comics. Jim Zubkavich, the big brain behind the totally fun Skullkickers from Image, wrote a great piece that breaks down the financial realities of indy print books. It should be required reading for anyone looking to get their mitts dirty with comics. He wrote another piece breaking down the fiscal madness of digital comics too, and again, it should be required reading. Jim shows wear the money goes, the percentages, the whole shebang to the best of his knowledge. You can absolutely make money off of digital comics, but again it takes work and dedication. These aren’t short term gains we’re talking here.

Digital Comics are so New: Jim talked about this in his post, but digital comics are new and there’s not a lot of data out there to analyze and figure out best practices. Companies aren’t releasing sales figures so no one really knows how well these comics are doing.

And as of yet there is no industry standard. No prescribed measurements, no interactivity requirements, no sure fire way of doing, well, anything. I think J. Michael Straczynski put it very eloquently in an interview with Previews,

“I think the digital playground is still working out its own rules for comics and the best ways in which to incorporate comics. The conceptual problem is that when a new delivery system comes up, everyone tries to shove previous content into the new venue without understanding the benefits of the new form, like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. It’s not just a new distribution system, it’s a new system, and you have to adapt and create something new and suited to its rules.”

You’ve gotta carve your own path and that can be terrifying, but rewarding too.

Digital Comics Publishers
When it comes to choosing a digital comics publisher, you want to work with a company that takes advantage of all the medium’s affordances while navigating it’s weaknesses. The majority of my interviewees worked with Graphicly, and Becky actually works for Graphicly, and they all seemed pleased with the experience.

They help provide exposure by connecting books to Amazon and the iBookstore among others. They publish material quickly. From what I’ve heard, their customer support is top of the line, though the interfaces for some of their programs could use some work. They allow creators to see analytics and take direct control over their reader’s viewing experience with panel by panel transitions. I’ve never personally used Graphicly, just spoken with people who have and it seems as though they’re doing good work for the comics crowd.

That being said, are there some aspects of digital comics that are out of both creator and publisher control? Some unexpected problems that have arisen with regards to the technology, the culture, or just the way that we read comics? That’s what I’ll be addressing in my next post, complete with video! Stay tuned folks!


Analyzing Digital Comics Through Interviews – Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!