Friday, November 14, 2008

BLUE BEETLE: We Don't Need No Stinkin' Floppies

The same day I'm reminded that our version of Blue Beetle is the first co-star with Batman in the premiere of the funky new animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold, premiering tonight at 8 pm --

-- I heard that the book itself is cancelled.

Wow. It's almost as if basing your entire business model around a series of must-buy big event crossovers in a market with limited purchasing resources hurts your midlist.

Although I've gotten some outraged e-mails from fans, I have to say this isn't unexpected. Both DC and Marvel are in a weird place right now -- are they publishing companies in a dying market or IP companies in a growing one? The answers to these questions demand different strategies, neither of which are necessarily the best circumstances for the creative participants.

Time to go creator-owned, and digitally distributed. Because that's the only solution that makes sense for our side of the equation.

There's a reason I like comic books so much, and plan on working quite a bit on digital distribution in the upcoming year. It relates somewhat to this essay by Cory Doctorow, discussing how new media forms are evolving from the net. Cory focuses primarily on video, and how commercial structure often bends stories into forms which don't necessarily serve to best tell the story. Although I'm pretty comfortable working within that structure, no TV writer will deny that he's said "Dammit, I wish there wasn't an act break here," only slightly less often than "Jesus, did that PA go to fucking Vegas to pick up lunch? I'm starving."

On the business side, there are a million great stories out there that aren't being told, because of a.)the high cost of breaking into the business of storytelling in mass media and b.) the high cost of producing and distributing those stories once you've broken in.

My point being -- a lot of those great untold stories make the best sense told in a serialized nonstandard page length, with accompanying art. When I was working on Blue Beetle, the final two issues originally plotted out to 50 pages. A tight fifty pages. They had to fit into 44. Now, setting aside that it's always better to edit, we can still ask -- was the book better for losing those six pages of character and story? I don't know. But it seems damn silly to bend storytelling to a format sold almost exclusively in low-attendance, often creepy specialty shops scattered across the nation.

Even if it's a fool's errand, I'd rather bend my storytelling to fit boxes that almost everyone has in their living room or back pocket.

Will you get even the paltry tens of thousands of paying customers that comics now get? I don't know. But without the publishing overhead, you may not need that many. Let's put it this way -- stripping out distribution costs and our share of the rent for those nice DC offices in Mahattan, Blue Beetle could have cost fifty cents an issue at its worst sales level, and still paid Rafael and myself more than we made on the run of the book.

Blah blah, just start wrapping your head around the Coasean Floor, while we start poking around with format and distribution. My goal here, by the way, is slightly different than most peoples. I don't want to figure out a way to build a company around this format. I want to figure out a way for a writer in Arkansas and an artist in Cairo to tell stories for a living.

In the Comments, your beefs with comics and your bright thoughts on non-traditional storytelling - including "Why there's no way this could work." Bonus points for bringing up hostage-ware and a patronage system.


Matt said...

Wherever you go to do this, however you choose to do it, I'm there.

I'm always astonished at how much comics fans cling to their paper and staples. Comics aren't paper and staples. They're pictures married to words to tell a story in sequence.

Will comics evolve as they become more integrated with electronic delivery systems? Absolutely. Is that a bad thing? no.

Will there always be a market for comics on paper, either in floppy or (more likely) collected format? For the forseeable future, yes.

Someone's gotta get out there and make this shit happen. My buddy and I just need an artist and we're gonna try it too. It just needs to be done--I'm at the point where i'm almost sick of reading about it and thinking about it and want to see someone MAKE IT HAPPEN.

(of course, it already is happening in the specific sphere of "webcomics," but I'd argue there hasn't been any really big story-based genre "hit" to come out of that arena, as it seems to be more typically derived from comic strips rather than comic books.)

Anyway. I'm ready for this. Bring it on.

caseyko74 said...

I will get into the way to tell stories later, but I would like to defend the PA for a minute: maybe if some people didn't spend an hour looking over the menu and analyzing what they want the PA could have ordered lunch at a decent time instead of at the lunch rush. But nooooooo, certain departments (looking at you producers and accounting) like to take their sweet time.

Then again, maybe the PA just sucks and you should fly me out next time to whip them into shape.

Back on topic:

Need to hunt through the Bad Signals, but didn't Ellis not to long ago repeat his thoughts on the fact a vast majority of people are watching and viewing entertainment on their laptop and phone monitors? But Ellis also has his paper theory of being able to print out paper and fold the book yourself (over simplifying I know).

For me it is how to adjust since the medium I love and want to work on is shrinking from a giant canvas to a small one. And John Stewart can make fun of watching Lawrence of Arabia on an iPhone all he wants, that is the way things seem to be going (really, how many people are heading out to places like the New Bev or the Paramount in Austin to watch the classics on truly giant screens?).

As for payment, no clue what the guys at Penny-Arcade pull down in a year, but they seem to be doing well. And I wonder if that is a way for online payment, where profit comes not just from ads but from merchandise associated with the product moreso than subscription or paypal donations.

Max Vaehling said...

I have mixed feelings about the format issue you're raising. Breaking the 90 minutes barrier made some movies better, but most just turned out longer. Same for comics. A lot of webcomics just drag on rather than find their own structures.

When webcomics were new, Scott McCloud argued that the old page size restrictions were obsolete, and promoted the Infinite Canvas.

Personally, I've never seen fixed page sizes as a restriction (in a bad way). They helped me structure my stories, and everything that does that is fine with me. Same for page counts.

Of course, it works for some stories, a lot of them in fact. But that doesn't mean it's always a good thing. Sometimes it even gets in the way of good things.

That said, I trust you're going to do it right. You did so far.

Cunningham said...

Let me put it this way, to place the digital comics furor in perspective:

Barnes & Noble are closing some of their bookstores to stay afloat. Borders ditto.

Print advertising is down, while digital ads are expected to climb 400% (?) to $1.5 Billion in 4 short years.

Comics in print take months to go from finished art to reader hands. Digital - several days tops after art is scanned.

Comics in print generally cost around $3.00 each. Digital free.

And when was the last time you "shared" one of your print comics with your friends? With digital - all it takes is a click of a mouse and an email directory...or an embed function.

(and for those "purists" out there who need it in print -- there are several wonderful print-on-demand services out overhead, quick turnaround, sales on Amazon)

Digital = future. Print will be a component of that, but not the backbone.

David Hunt said...

Cancelled. Damn. I just started picking up old BBs about two months ago.

My beefs with comics today all boil down to being caused by people not buying enough of them. The big publishers focus most of their support on the “Big Guys” that they have in their stable. It’s hard for a new and likable character to take off and get a following. Great books like, e.g. Chase, go down unless they’re lucky enough to be instant hits. [Insert rant about the unfairness of Chase being cancelled here.] The books are too expensive for a kid’s budget so their customers are an aging population. All that bad stuff.

All that said, I like my stinkin’ floppies. I like to have the book in my hand. I like books that aren’t on a screen. It’s easier to lean back and relax. I suppose it’s a sign of my being left behind and turning into an old fart. When the transformations complete, I’ll start yelling at kids to get off my lawn (and go home and read comic books).

Shan said...

Ah, so that's why Cory wears a cape.

Pete Sears said...

Seems like Warren's got a pretty good way of working on this with Freakangels.
He produces a couple of pages per week, and eventually produces a graphic novel, which is what seems to drive the comic market anyway.

Lack of Blue Beetle is bumming me out.

On a completely unrelated note: Saw you on an old episode of Premuim Blend on Comedy Central. Hee!

Keith said...

I've been thinking a lot lately about self publishing and how it can fit into this model.

I already self published one novel, which has sold a few copies, but I would like to get a few more into the hands of people who might like it. POD publishing and giving away PDFs of the book are great. If you're Corey Doctorow and also have the PR arm of a massive publishing house whispering your name across the ether. For the rest of us, we have to find ways to market these non-traditionally distributed stories. That's the kicker. But what's the solution? Blogads? Sending online magazines review copies?

Dan Hill said...

Mark Waid has a small article in the latest Comic Foundry essentially on the same subject. It's a good read. It's talk like this and projects like PJ Holdens EyeCandy (Google it and be impressed) that really get me excited about where comics can go in the future.

Martin said...

About form: I was just rereading the Reach for the Stars TPB and it still impresses me how each 22-page segment constituted a complete story in and of itself yet managed to move the characters and the overall Reach plot forward. That sort of thing just never happens anymore, what with 6-issue arcs planned for trades, padded storytelling, and inter-issue cliffhangers. I kick myself for missing such a great experience when it was running in monthly issues.

In that case, I think form helped, giving the stories a good rhythm going even within the context of a larger narrative. The 22-page barrier really does force you to edit... To pull in an example from the movies, I find that many "Extended Edition" DVDs are often slower and less focused than the actual theatrical cut.

Re the future of the floppy, I wouldn't be sad to see them go. These stories in and of themselves are not going to move periodicals. Just about every periodical from newspapers to glossy magazines are losing readership and those publications have way more variety and value than a 22-page feature that's only one-sixth of a complete story.

If Marvel and DC only put out trades, I'd be happier. The printed product is still important to me, as reading off the screen for long periods still gives me a headache. There's far less fatigue involved looking at a printed comic book page, and I can take a TPB anywhere and read it without battery power or a network connection.

caseyko74 said...

Well for getting the word out there there are message boards and comment sections of blogs and sites. You're not going to become uber rich, but you might have some extra income coming in in awhile and at the least you are getting your work out there
(and yeah, I know it can be taxing working the regular gig while trying to do your writing or drawing, but every would be artist goes through that).

I was also thinking how you could combine with other online stores or companies. Maybe your comics character wears t-shirts by Bumpy Pitch. Sure its product placement but maybe they promote your comic on the site and you promote their product on your's and somehow two groups of people get exposed to something they wouldn't otherwise.

Then if you want when you get to the publishing stage, throw in an ad from the other company.

This ends badly for me. I can see it now, I will never get hired on a John Rogers show. "Him? No, he spends his days trying to work on ideas I throw out there." But hey, we are wrapped for the day.

Steve said...

I ran into a booth for iVerse Media at Wizard World Texas last weekend. What they are doing is kind of interesting. They are taking existing comics and formatting them for the iPhone/Touch and selling them through the App Store for 99 cents. They have 4 issues that they are offering for free (I highly recommend Proof from Image Comics).

Their website also says they are taking submissions for new creator owned titles.

I was skeptical but I found that it actually wasn't a bad experience reading it on my phone. It was convenient being able to sit at the coffee shop and pull out my phone and read a couple comics.

Sigrid said...

I'm three-quarters of the way through Chris Anderson's _The Long Tail_. I'm also two unpublished graphic novels and a series of unpublished minicomics into writing comics. I am seriously, seriously, trying to figure out how to use the new modes of creation, publication, and distribution to get my comics in front of readers.

Which doesn't mean in their hands. There's a cache right now to the printed, bound page. I'd like to get something published in that sense. But web comics, web-based PDF subscriptions, micropayments,and other forms of distribution are all on the table right now.

I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on this --

B-W said...

I'm aware that a persistent argument against digital distribution is that it's so easy to copy and re-distribute for free afterward. While that's true, I honestly think they'd get more paying customers from the free publicity than they'd lose (too say nothing of your excellent argument for how much cheaper digital distribution is).

Big Finish seems to be doing all right since moving to a digital distribution format for Doctor Who audios almost a year ago.

Cunningham said...

Now imagine wherever they say "hardware" you insert "comics."

Matt Forbeck said...

Wolfgang Baur does a great job with his variant on the patronage model for RPGs, to the extent that it shared in this year's Diana Jones Award and that some other creators are starting to pick up the banner too. It could work with comics as well, although the creator(s) involved would need to have enough of a name to get the ball rolling in the first place.

It would be a real thrill for fans to not only be able to see a story develop but also be able to play a part in its creation. That's one of the strongest points in favor of the patronage system. As I wrote in the release honoring Wolf for the Diana Jones Award (I'm one of the people who run it), "Each project becomes a master-level class on roleplaying game adventure or supplement design for those privileged to be a part of it."

Now we just need someone to step forward and bell that cat.

Mary Sue said...

My favorite part is where Dido says, "Yeah, it's getting positive response, but still we must cancel it!"

I've deleted the sentence that goes here several times because it just boils down to obscenities regarding the circumstances of his birth and the career choices of his mother, along with my observations of the aberrant sexual fetishes he possibly enjoys.

I personally think moving to an online format, whether it's the traditional webcomic or something like Ellis' Freakangels experiment, will draw into the reading fold a lot of people who wouldn't be caught dead setting foot inside a comic shop because [choose one] they smell funny, the people who run them are wierd or mean, only nerds with no social skills are into comics, et cetera.

And by 'people who wouldn't be caught dead setting foot inside a comic shop', I do refer to that elusive demographic, women.

SwanShadow said...

My main problem with digital comics is that I don't usually sit on the toilet with my laptop.

You laugh, but that's where I do most of my comics reading these days.

For what it's worth, John, Blue Beetle has been on my pull list since Day One. It's been one of my favorite reads every month, and yes, I've told everyone who will listen. I'll be sad to see it go.

Grumpy said...

... the funky new animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold...

Thanks for the tip. Big drawback to DVR: I never see promos for new shows.

gwangung said...

I'm aware that a persistent argument against digital distribution is that it's so easy to copy and re-distribute for free afterward. While that's true, I honestly think they'd get more paying customers from the free publicity than they'd lose (too say nothing of your excellent argument for how much cheaper digital distribution is).

See Baen Press. See John Scalzi.

If it works for SOME people, then it works, PERIOD. You may have to tweak around some parameters to make it work, but that what happens anyway, even in traditional forms.

lou said...

I am utterly baffled why they would announce they're canceling the Blue Beetle book the same week he's in The Brave and the Bold. Of all books on it's roster in the main universe, it really is the only one I could say is an all-ages book. Which is a dirty word to the mainstream comics fan, but is no less true.

Michael Clear said...

How exactly do I keep the latest updates of a website in a Mylar bag? While I made it a point to pick up Blue Beetle (which I paid part of your salary, you're welcome), I haven't read comics in many years thought I still have a huge collection of old titles. I'll really miss that format if it does die off but there isn't that much you can do, I suppose.

LurkerWithout said...

From floppies to the web:

Phil & Kaja Foglio: Girl Genius

Carla Speed-McNeil: Finder

and as mentioned before Warren Ellis: Freakangels

This doesn't even count the various people who've managed to turn a webcomic hobby into a full-time career. As for the Big Two, I'd love to see them take flagging mid-ship titles like Blue Beetle or Manhunter or Spider-Girl and move them to the web, selling them in tpb format 4-6 months...

SH Cone said...

I'm of two minds on the subject. On the one hand, I like things that are specific to particular genres or mediums. The pages, the page count, the structure of traditional comics is appealing to me in some bizarre nerd way.

But at the same time I'm gearing up to finance, make and distribute a film independently. The internet distribution model is appealing to me because it's a little more freeing and I retain creative control. It may never be shown in a theater aside from its premiere at a local indy joint here in town (unless the Big Dream comes down and someone wants to distribute it).

These are not quite the same. My point is that I'm a not really sure what I think as it relates to comics. I guess I'm just old enough now to have trouble wrapping my head around reading a comic online. Its annoying without a massive screen for some reason. Its the same reason I don't like reading books online, despite the fact that I read massive amounts of information online every day.

BUT... I always want to see art pushed out of its conventions to see what will happen. At the end of the day, if the work is appealing enough, I can always just print the damn thing and staple it together if its that big a deal. :)

I guess... lure me in. Tell me a good story. And I'll figure out an acceptable way to consume it.

Oh, and: bummer about Beetle getting canceled. Sad that events hurt the middlings.

Cunningham said...

@ SH Cone:

"I guess I'm just old enough now to have trouble wrapping my head around reading a comic online. Its annoying without a massive screen for some reason."

How about if it were in a more digest-able format and more frequent? Similar to what you get in a serialized Sunday strip like PRINCE VALIANT, etc...

6-8 pages every week perhaps?

I think the sticking point here is the word "book" which doesn't begin to encapsulate the abilities of a story told in the form. I'm all for people buying printed matter if it suits them, but I really want them to get value for that money. Floppies sadly don't do that anymore. What was meant to be a cheap and disposable way to tell stories and entertain has become too sophisticated (production-wise) and expensive for its medium to provide the best value.

The internet gets us back to cheap and disposable. It up to creators to bring the sophisticated entertainment value to it.

Mike Cane said...

>>>often creepy specialty shops


Comic Zeal? Not ANOTHER fucking comic program for iPhone! That's THREE now!

iVerse Comics: Ten Comics For The iPhone!

eBook Breakthrough For iPhone Comics!

Standardize, goddammit!

Anonymous said...

No No no!!!

Argh... Cancellation just before he appears on TV?

The best book DC have put out monthly for 3 years gets cancelled on my birthday weekend.... Oh well while I hoped it would last I did worry it would struggle to make 50 issues in the current comic publishing climate.

Booster Gold will be next I've no doubt and only JLA/JSA will still be in the mix...

It's like DC don't WANT my money anymore...

But in all of this I know that there's comic stores going under as well... While the publishing model is part of the problem of sustaining comics it's not just the talent who are going to suffer.

I'd happily pay to read BB continue on line - $1 an issue without a floppy copy would be okay (even better if a TPB comes out every 6 months). But if I do that for all my books the store I visit on vacation in Orlando would miss out sales and he'd be out of a job (and it's tough times for him already).

You know what I think the solution is (and it works I'll be expecting money thrown my way)... Local Print shops for Comics.

I'm sure the technology is out there to put in top quality printers which can print and bind comics on demand. Just like you take your photos into print at Walmart for your wall or scrapbook or whatever.. you go into your local comic store pay X for the printed version of the book you already enjoy.

Comic book store overhead drops - no need to buy for the shelf and hope someone buys off the shelf. You still get the community and common connection that most of us enjoy in our local comic stores (at least the ones I visit on vacation my local places are hopeless). Wouldn't need to just be comic books - other magazines could be handled allowing for a break out of the PDF mags to print professionally....

Just a thought.

Still got to ask Rogers... Would you go back to Blue Beetle for a 6 issue mini series? I just feel put in all the hard work to get a great set up and then didn't get to play beyond the best origin arch I've seen in years.

Doug said...

I really should have put a name to my last post there!

SH Cone said...

@ Cunningham

That just might do the trick. The real problem is tricking or re-training the brain on processing it. My brain goes, "book" and seems to get really confused that I'm not reading the book as a book. And feels daunted at reading a lot of stuff, presumably at once, on the screen.

This may be attributed to the ADD-like focus that internet breeds. Stay at one site for hours? Perposterous!

But yeah. A comic page a day or so and it becomes just another part of the rounds. Brain is happy, reader is consuming cool things... everyone wins. I always look forward to Penny Arcade doing something like the Cardboard Tube Samurai serials, which seems to amount to the same thing.

It's strange because while most of us spend hours on the internet procrastinating, unless we're watching a video or something it's a constantly moving kind of procrastination. I'll even read the same crap over and over again, as long as I've left the page and returned later.

But this may just be my particular kind of insanity.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear about Blue Beetle, as well. It's on my pull and I've told everyone I could think of.

On the subject of digital comics, I will say I've found a much more pleasureable way to read them. I lucked into an old tablet PC (a laptop where the screen rotates and folds back), and it's fantastic for digital comics. I rotate the picture, fit it into the sideways screen, and use the stylus to turn pages.

I've re-read vast amounts of comics this way without disturbing my longboxes (to forestall outrage, I'll note that I will take advantage of downloaded comics, but only stuff I already own, and have purchased digital archives). I'm an old geezer of 46, and couldn't get used to reading comics on a monitor, but dang, this works great.


Jon said...

God damn it. I love BB.


Yeah, I pretty much have nothing to add beyond that ;)

Winterman said...

Comic books, even serialized superhero comics are books. Book publishers, solvent ones, publish a wide variety of books focused at a wide varity of readers. They do this, I'm told, in order to make money.

As long as the guys running the Big Two refuse to admit that they are in the business of publishing books rather than courting the increasingly myopic and insular viewpoints of their aging and dwindling "core" audience, they will see the market share shrink. There's probably an actuarial able that can predict precisely the rate of attrition. I bet it's not even a complex one. Probably fobbed off on the new guy.

Meanwhile those "indies" who court creative teams the way publishers court novelists, and publish a wide array of title and approaches to the medium will see their market share rise (presuming their quality remains high). We'll see the occasional Stephen king of comics but precious little in the ay of the sort of household name branding that Super, Bat, Spider and, just maybe, Iron Man enjoy.

Its no shock that all the major publishing houses have arms that focus on graphic fiction exclusively. SOMEBODY wants to buy this stuff.

My advice? Let the fanboys die off and open the doors to the rainbow. Who needs 'em?

Also, as much as I love my LCS, they need to die the True Death too. All of them. Comic Book Specialty Shops are a massive part of the problem of increasing market share and decreasing the stigma hurdle.

Dump 'em or force them to broaden their merch to include, wait for it, BOOKS. or Toys. or other related materials that can draw in readers and collectors of all sorts. It's not rocket science. hell, rocket science isn't even rocket science anymore.

Birds of Prey. Blue Beetle. Manhunter. Others. Quality books in the mid range getting gutted and dumped in favor of yet another title starring Green Lantern or Batman?


I am disgusted. this is me in disgust.

gwalla said...

There are actually quite a few people doing reasonably well for themselves making webcomics and selling collections & merch. Phil Foglio has repeatedly said that Girl Genius has been much more profitable since he stopped making floppies and went to free web-based distribution. And of course there are several who never did pamphlets in the first place.

Of course, they're all working with their own IP, not corporate-owned characters (well, David Willis has Batman show up sometimes, but that's parody).

BTW, people on the scans_daily LiveJournal community are attempting to get Blue Beetle uncancelled. One of their plans is to buy copies of Shellshocked to donate to Toys For Tots.

Danny said...

Hey! Easy on the PAs. Sometimes we DO have to go to Vegas to pick up lunch or sometimes we DO have to go somewhere else and get -- this is a true story -- a half-decaf coffee with six (!) shots of espresso.

Monsterbeard said...

I love the idea of breaking boundaries and finding new and better ways to tell stories. You see that happen sometimes in the mainstream. The Wire had numerous episodes that weren't the same length, just the length the story needed to be.

As far as online distribution goes, I have to say that all in all, I'm not pleased. iTunes revolutionized how we legally obtain music, but at the end of the day, it's more confined than ever. Before, if I bought a CD, I had to listen to it on a CD player, but it didn't have to specifically be a Sony player. But now, Apple locks down its music to the computers and gadgets that it wants to allow.

So what happens when the next gadget or format arrives? I just lose all the stuff I purchased. If I buy a comic, I get to read it all the time until it crumbles in my hands. If I download a comic, I get to read it until they raise my subscription price, or I get a new computer that isn't authorized, or when OSes don't read jpeg or mpeg or any other format we have now.

Instant gratification works both ways. It happens as fast as you want for a limited time.

MN said...

Well, frankly I hate US comics because I respond to the anime style, instinctively, because they never end, and because tend to rely a lot on "superheroes."

mathan said...

I understand the why going digital might make sense in some regard, but for me comics aren't my profession, they're my enjoyment.

I can't curl up with my PC (or even my laptop) under the covers on a cold day. I can't take my computer with me in the kitchen while I'm making a cooking. Ditto for the couch on a rainy day or the bus on my way to work.

I don't want to read something on a screen. I don't like reading period and putting it on a computer will turn me off the practice completely.

Much like I enjoy the tactile aspect of cds and liner notes, I dig turning pages.

Honestly, I don't even like trades, I only get those as gifts for friends and family.

I like going to the comic shop to pick up my books every week. I like knowing that I'm helping out a local business and rubbing elbows with fellow comic fans.

I even understand that some creators might find the printed page count limiting, but some artists find the album limiting and how many horrible double albums are there?

It's fine to be gung-ho about new frontier, but that doesn't mean that you've got abandon everything that came before.

Anonymous said...

Time to go creator-owned, and digitally distributed. Because that's the only solution that makes sense for our side of the equation.

Isn't that your answer to every question, though?

Cunningham said...

"Isn't that your answer to every question, though?"

Welcome to the future, pal!

Winterman said...

Luddites be damned. Buy a KINDLE. I've been reading comics longer than I've been watching TV and going to the movies. 30 years.

I get most of my TV from the internet now, do a good deal of my research and a considerable amount of my debate here and that's how it's going to be for everybody soon. I read about half of the books I read in some sort of digital fashion now as well. That is also the future. Get used to it.

Books, comics, whatever, they're just delivery systems. The medium of cheapest, least resistance. If they could have printed them on old onion skins back in the 1930s, you'd best believe they would have.

Well, there's NOTHING easier (yet) than downloading an entire novel or "album" (funny to me to hear CDs as a tactile experience when I remember vinyl) directly into its appropriate display device.

Digging in heels is what's gutting the comics industry and causing the product to be increasingly constipated. Only a very rare breed truly enjoys the scat play. Mot of us don't qualify.

Embrace your future early and it will embrace you back. Try picturing the future as Angelina Jolie if that helps.I don't need it personally but I'm told that sort of thing can work wonders.

Or, as the homogenized, semi-humorous, totally-safe-for-consumption, TV hip-hop, pseudo-thugs say:

"Playa, don't hate. Participate."

rpm45 said...

Cory Doctorow discusses part of the difficulty of online delivery in an article for Locus Magazine a while back (later reprinted in his CC essay anthology "Content"). He points out that most of us do like reading on a computer screen, but the type of reading we do here is inherently different. As sh cone pointed out here, very few people actually sit and read something at their computer. A computer is for doing.

I don't know how this gets overcome do to proper online distribution. Maybe things like iPhones and Kindle-type objects help (I don't have either, but I certainly wouldn't curl up with a laptop). Maybe POD comic shops would help. I love somebody's idea (can't find it now, sorry!) of having the Big 2's midlist published online and collected in trades, but again there's the problem of reading them online in the first place. I don't know.

I do know that I've been following a few great webcomics that put out a page every couple of days. But if for some reason I fall behind, it's pretty rare that I go back and catch up, if it takes more than a couple of page views. After a certain point I feel like I should be doing something else...

Very sad to see BB go. I've read up to Endgame, and I was really looking forward to seeing how the character gets established as an "ongoing" character, now that his origin story's done. Where to now? Sadly, I don't get long to find out. :(

gwalla said...

MN: Don't kid yourself. Manga is full of superheroes too. Their costumes just feature fewer capes.

Halloween Jack said...

Well, on the one hand, I'm sad, because the book was great fun while you were writing it and still pretty good when you weren't. But I'll save gas when they cancel the last few floppies that I'm even remotely interested in and I no longer have the several-miles round trip to my LCS every Wednesday afternoon, so there's that.

John Seavey said...

My thoughts:

1) It's not only doable, it's being done. Penny Arcade, Sluggy Freelance, Girl Genius, there are guys and gals out there making a living with digital distribution of their IP.

2) Print has to be part of the strategy. As Douglas Adams pointed out, "You don't realize what a brilliant invention the book was until you try to make something to replace it." I read Penny Arcade three times a week, but the comics that they've collected seem far more familiar to me.

3) I'm not sure that digital distribution can be the answer for Marvel and DC, because they need to sustain a higher profit margin than an individual person (or a collaborative team.) "Nobody gets rich, everybody gets paid" is a great motto for a person like me, but for a whole company that employs dozens of editors, assistant editors, and staff? That's a lot of "everybodies" to get paid. And just laying them off because you're "reducing overhead" isn't cool.

Still 4) I think that Marvel and DC have to go the opposite route, returning to the model that they've gotten away from because the lure of the short-term profit was too seductive; newsstands. It was immensely tempting to go to direct distribution because of the immediate savings, just like it'd be immensely tempting to go to digital distribution for the same reason, but the trade-off is lowered visibility for your product. Marvel and DC need to get everyone thinking about buying comics, and the newsstands provided instant advertising--when your product is everywhere, it's always a tempting impulse purchase. When your product is only in specialty stores, it's the province of devoted fans. When your product is on a website that people have to search for? It's niche publishing. Superman's not niche publishing.

5) I'm probably partly responsible for BB's cancellation, because I can't afford to buy comics right now. :)

Kevin Huxford said...

Generally, I think anything that allows the artist (of words or of drawings) share their vision the way they intended is great. So I'm all for being able to break out of the structure imposed in comics.

At the same time, though, I do think that the challenge of fitting in that format can lead to improvements. Like deadlines can keep you from procrastinating (too much, at least), structure can keep you from getting lazy.

Much to the chagrin of some great DM retailers out there, I really do think the future is digital distribution and printed collections. It just makes sense. At the very least, serialization should wind up extinct.

Otter said...

A couple things. First: Using Penny Arcade as an example of how ordinary people can make a living doing comics on the web is bullsh**, for the same reason that holding up Steven King as an example of how ordinary people can making a living at writing is bullsh**. They've long since gotten to a level where they have access to opportunities and models that no ordinary person will match.

Second: The problem with cutting out distributors etc is that you're cutting out the people who are paying you ahead of time. Students and rich folks can afford to spend six months working on a project in the hopes of eventually getting a payoff, but the average person making comics doesn't have that luxury. They have families and cars and mortgages and constant bills, and taking six months to maybe make some cash... Let's just say that I've yet to meet a bank willing to take original comic artwork in place of cash for mortgage payments. ;-)

Anonymous said...

(of course, it already is happening in the specific sphere of "webcomics," but I'd argue there hasn't been any really big story-based genre "hit" to come out of that arena, as it seems to be more typically derived from comic strips rather than comic books.)

My teen got hooked on "Chasing the Sunset," which led to a half-dozen other offerings. I've become accustomed to sudden outbursts fracturing the silence of reading online, be it gales of laughter or the quivering "no way! NO WAY!".

Webcomics may yet be fledgeling, but they are the future for at least one young reader.


Winterman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Winterman said...

A couple things. First: Using Penny Arcade as an example of how ordinary people can make a living doing comics on the web is bullsh**, for the same reason that holding up Steven King as an example of how ordinary people can making a living at writing is bullsh**. They've long since gotten to a level where they have access to opportunities and models that no ordinary person will match.

Yeah. No.

The PA guys built their success from the ground up. Whatever they've got now is the result of years of hard work done by two "regular guys." Hard Work + talent+ a tiny amount of luck= creative success

Stephen King is successful because he's talented, disciplined and prolific.

I make a living writing. Fiction. I'm a regular guy. Nobody has ever handed me anything. I'm obviously not Stephen King or anywhere near that status. But, as was said earlier, if the model works for somebody, it works.

Like the one about noses and grindstones.

If it was easy everybody would do it. And, quiet as it's kept, just as with sprinters and javelin throwers, some writers are just BETTER than other writers. Yes, it's true. Sad.

The printing press changed literature and the internet will change it again. You can dig in your feet against the train or you can buy a ticket. Those are the options. One provides an interesting trip, the other leaves a mess on the tracks.

Your choice.

DecoderRing said...

"Wow. It's almost as if basing your entire business model around a series of must-buy big event crossovers in a market with limited purchasing resources hurts your midlist."

This is the biggest millstone around the neck of the comics industry. This addiction to trying to wring every last dime out of a few thousand fans instead of allowing readership to grow by focusing on stories you can read and enjoy without devoting every spare moment and dollar to the activity.

I love comics. I love buying them, reading them, putting them in little mylar bags for safekeeping... But I don't have time or patience for this never ending stream of giant multi-title year-long crossover events. Aside from the fact that I'll never stick with it, so why start.... (a) They always, always, always suck and (b) You can't hook me by promising that some gigantic event is going to happen that changes everything... no matter what you do, no matter what you change, some tit is just going to come along and change it all back to the way it was when he was a lad

So give it up... he won't stay dead, she won't stay evil, his secret identity will somehow be secret again in fifteen issues, the sidekick will not take over the role... please, just stop trying to constantly trick me into thinking that this issue will be a huge collector's item and tell me a freaking story.

If they would do that... if they would allow for the possibility of casual readership... I think they could continue to publish as they have been... for awhile anyway.

But I ain't holding my breath.

Cunningham said...

@ Otter (and any other luddite jackasses out there listening)

Second: The problem with cutting out distributors etc is that you're cutting out the people who are paying you ahead of time.

They do NOT pay you ahead of time. They often pay you 90 days after a comic is shipped to retailers. Then you have to deduct expenses - printing, paper stock, shipping, etc... With print you are carrying a huge debt load every time you create a new comic.

Students and rich folks can afford to spend six months working on a project in the hopes of eventually getting a payoff, but the average person making comics doesn't have that luxury. They have families and cars and mortgages and constant bills, and taking six months to maybe make some cash...

So write and draw in the evenings. It worked for teacher Don Newton who used to draw for fanzines and then pro comics (THE PHANTOM, BATMAN) in the evenings after a day at school.

There's a lot of folks in the entertainment (writing, drawing, acting, what have you) biz who have "day jobs."

And let's understand that we're not talking the end of serialized comics - we're talking about the end of serialized PRINT comics. That combined with social networking features - forums, email reminders, embeddable readers, links, Twitter, etc...and you can see that someone can spread their work far and wide on the web. THEN they can collect in print.

A Digital comic is just a refinement of the analog business system. They are no different than the Sunday comics coming to your doorstep every week. In this case, they don't get wet when the sprinkler comes on. What do most folks do with the Sunday funnies? Throw them away after they read them...hmmm.

Oh, and lets get the other elephant out of the room:

YES! there IS going to be a lot of crap flooding the net. I will probably be responsible for a lot of it. The point is that I don't need someone else for me to do what I want to do - no distributors, retailers, printers, etc...and very few cash flow problems. There will be a direct connect between creator and audience...

and rest assured, I will spin some yarns, entertain the troops with my pulpy song and dance, and sell them the t-shirt and action figure too...

And no one will cancel me except me.

PJ Holden said...

My company, infurious, figured this out a little while ago, which is why we're publishing brand new creator owned material exclusively to the iPhone. Since the material is drawn to fit the phone we're able to do all sorts of cool things with it, so the experience of a comic on the iPhone isn't as reductive as it could be by simply chopping up the artwork and displaying it. We've added stuff like layers, building in webpages/forums/etc (in forthcoming titles).

As a comic artist, it's incredible to be able to have a format that I know I can just use almost straight away - once the art is complete it can be put out there for public consumption (assuming apple don't reject it for content as they did our first title, 'murderdrome' grr...)


Greg H said...

There's a lot going on in this discussion; name-calling between the luddites and the future-fetishists, grumpy fan-boys taking the opportunity to bag the Big 2, voices in defence of PAs,...and some unashamed plugging. Glad you did, pj. Don't know what the content is like, but you're obviously thinking hard about how digital comics can be much more than just a jpg of the printed page. Makes me look like a caveman putting his painted rocks in the spinner rack.

Though still proud enough enough of painted rocks to unashamedly plug them.

DuckPuppy said...

So, I'll go ahead and say that I didn't read all the comment. I'm sure I'm reiterating what someone else has already said. Even so...

I really don't want to see the demise of the floppy format until there's an actual replacement. My laptop won't fit so well next to my lunch at the sandwich shop. My iPhone is WAY too small for comics. I can watch TV on those, since the experience is conveyed via multiple senses... action and dialogue can be processed simultaneously. In a comic, sometimes you really need to be able to see the details and read the dialogue clearly. I could get a netbook like the Acer One, but can I REALLY afford in this economy to spend $400 on what will primarily be a book reader? For that matter, e-paper based readers are also still in their infancy feature-wise, even at that price point. No color, slow redraw. That may well be the solution in the end once those hurdles are... hurdled. My bed-and-booth-friendly form factor is preserved... and falling asleep with a small and light e-book reader is certainly less damaging to both myself and the reader than doing the same thing with a laptop. The problem is that comics on an e-reader would be an excellent way to drive the technology forward, but (and I will only speak for myself here) I wouldn't BUY the comics or the reader until the technology were up to my expectations. Whether there is a sufficient quantity of people who WOULD buy in the interim is not my place to speculate.

lea-hazel said...

For what it's worth, I just got the second TPB of Blue Beetle and quite enjoyed it. It was kind of hard to stomach the first one, because it seemed to be a continuation of a crossover event which I hadn't read.

I do think it reads very well in TPB format, and that a lot of stories published in monthly format would benefit from switching to longer editions spaced farther apart. It's something worth thinking about, as is the rest of your entry. Especially if I'm a writer in Israel who wants to work with an artist in France.

PJ Holden said...

@DuckPuppy - I agree, the iPhone is too small for traditional comics - but, at least in the UK, comic readers are used to different sizes for comics (right down to 'Commando' comics - small, digest sized comics - typically with two panels per page - that have been running for years - four issues per month and they've recently past issue 4,000 (NOT a typo!) If you treat the iPhone screen as a single page - rather than a magnifying glass onto a larger oage, it's a surprisingly satisfying read (much better at comics than it is at books, imho)

- pj

Louis Porter Jr. said...

I am currently using Wolfgang's idea to do my own patron prject for the upcoming D20/OGL RPG setting, Obsidian Twilight. So far I think this will be the thing that a lot of smaller companies will start turinging to to get more and more niche fans.

Cunningham said...

@PJHolden --

I assume (whoa boy) that British Commando Comics are similar in size and format to Italian fumetti like DIABOLIK?

Just trying to get an accurate frame of reference...

@everyone -

I understand from the comments there are 3 apps for the iPhone to read comics...

What are the various formats for other tech devices - computers, Sony Readers, Kindles, anything else? I'm talking about websites too: what are the ones that have the easiest, most satisfying reader interface to use? Why is it easy?

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Winterman said...

Yeah. All six of you. Well done.

Chris said...

Interesting post.

Very interesting comments.

I agree with the premise that going to the internet is the way to go. But I think what is most needed is a non-profit website (or that indirectly profits) that highlights categorizes and draws attention to online indy comics.

I have friends that have been self publishing online (digital comic and print on demand) for a 3/4 of year now, 4 issues with a 5th to be posted soon. I've helped them some with the comic's site: and while they have had decent sales and some positive notice here and there, generating traffic becomes this constant background mental quest.

They go to alot of comic conventions and always get a nice lift after those, but as the winter takes hold and the convention season goes into hibernation, it gets much trickier to drive traffic to a comic site using just the internet alone.

So while, as someone with friends doing what you suggest: taking the book online, I'm excited to see more and more people with experience from the big two beginning to come to the online conclusion, what is really needed is the business minded people to create an iTunes level distribution/awareness model that can direct people to the sales of these online indies without directly going after the artists IP and profits.

If somebody solves how to collect and drive an audience to indy creators, then we'll *really* have something I think.

Cause putting the books online for 99¢, that part is solved, my friends are doing that now with minimal hassle. It's all about pulling in the audience if you are an "unkown" that is the challenge.

Finding an indy book in a comic store can be a challege, but it's even easier to get lost on the net.

Sorry if that rambled abit.

Again, I really enjoyed this thread.

Winterman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Winterman said...

Well. I liked the WOWIO model but I hear they screwed it up. Can anybody say different? I'd love to know.

PJ Holden said...


Not sure what size the fumetti comics are, the commando comics, (from wikipedia 7 x 5 1/2 inch with a single 68page comic.


Comfort Love said...

Our friend Chris (post above) just sent us the link to your topic on your blog – which, particularly fascinates me because me and my husband, Adam Withers do just what you’re talking about doing. Self publish a creator owned book through the internet.

We’ve spent the last ten months working on our own comic, The Uniques, , and will have 5 issues out at the end of this month. So in my almost yearlong stint, this is some of what I’ve learned – or some of the conclusions I’ve come to.

• First off, self publishing through the web is possible.

Alright, it’s really hard – yes - but, if you’re willing to bite the bullet and live a meager existence (at least for a while) it can help you get the book off the ground. This could take a small amount of time – or a large amount of time. It all depends on hard work, luck, and how long you’re willing to stick it out.

• It’s going to need people with established names to make this really work.

I’d like to think and me and Adam have a pretty good book with The Uniques – but (and they’ll be a LOT of ‘buts’ in this) we don’t have a huge name – frankly we don’t really have a name seeing as the largest and most well known property we’ve worked on was in some of the most recent Mutants and Masterminds RPG books. As these relative small fries we can only sell books in the hundreds, where as we need to be selling in the thousands to make it our Full-Time, permanent, job. Lets’ put it this way, if it weren’t for cons and the money we make at them, it would be tough.

Now, if you were someone who already had a name, say like you, or somebody else who was already big in the comic biz, the buzz and interest that would be able to create would be exponential. I can only imagine that it’s easier to go from a place of establishment then starting from scratch. Just like a creator can moves fans from book to book as they follow their work – so too should they be able to carry them into the digital age.

• Full digital comics must have a hub of distribution and opinion.

I say ‘full’ digital comic because I don’t mean comic strips on the web – or as they’re usually known, web comics. Web comics already have a structure that works for them – now full comics need one.
This site needs to be a place where you can get links, info, quality control - and lastly, open, honest, and thoughtful reviews. People must have a way to sort though what they may be interested in – whether they be peer reviews or by fans of the book, it’s an essential part of making this viable.

Finally, most importantly, there needs to be some kind of subscription service. One of the things that makes comics so awesome is being able to go to your local comic shop and pick up your pull list, and check everything out all at once. One would think that doing a few clicks to pick up a 99¢ comic though Pay-Pal wouldn’t be too much of a big deal, but it turns out it is. Doing all that clicking – putting in your codes – all the like can be a hassle. People need to have a way to pick up what they want and have it either sent directly to them via e-mail with download links – or already have a pre-paid account that allows them to bourse and pick up whatever they like. This is nice because it works not only for adults, but it works for kids whose parents will buy them a subscription.

In short – convenience, convenience, convenience. Quality, quality, quality. I know it’s hard to be just as good or better then the big two – but to pull people towards the cause, we’ve gotta be.

• Aim for more then the normal comic reading audience.

People who are hard core into Marvel and DC like reading new stuff, sure – but their hearts already belong to Spider-man and Superman. You can get a decent portion of them to come over to reading comics online – but many of them are married to the way things are and aren’t interested in changing no matter how you slice it…at least not until it’s the only option they’ve got.

There are a lot of people who are left out of the target audience of comic readers – not least of which are females, minorities, yes, sadly, kids and teens.

Heck, an interesting tid-bit for you to chew on is that there is a whole sea of manga reading young people who are now hitting their early twenties to ‘graduate’ up into American comics. And, most of them, if not all of them, have grown-up reading things online.

• In closing.

Well, I think I’ve taken up enough of your time, and everyone else who bothered to read. The basic situation that we’ve got now is this. There is no real structure for full online comics. Wowio was nice, but even that’s messed up now. We NEED the i-tunes of comics - and to go with that we need an affordable way to print trades (print on demand is nice, but far to expensive to be competitive).

In no way am I a person of prominence in any way, shape, or form. All I am is a chick whose got some input on a subject I’ve been living through for the last few months. Thanks for reading my rant and here’s hoping we can all find a way to come together to make online comics and distribution a viable reality.

…and if anyone has any more ideas on the subject feel free to share it with me.

Cunningham said...

Thanks, PJ. I should have known there was already an informative Wiki on it.

And yes, it's comparable to italian fumetti:

Craig Smye said...

I think people will eventually have sheets of "digital paper" that they download content to. Sort of like the newspapers in Minority Report. So however people pay for your content, they could still effectively read it as a "true comic book" in bed, on the crapper or while riding the train, etc..

Digital paper would show the current page on one side and the next page on the other. When you flip the digital paper to view the next page in the story, the previous page, now on the backside, becomes the next page. and vice versa if you flip the page in the other direction.

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