Can the iPhone Save Comic Books ... or At Least Small Press?

Can the iPhone Save Comic Books?
Image from Catastrophic Comics' 'Sparks'
Image from Catastrophic Comics' 'Sparks'
Image from Catastrophic Comics' 'Sparks'

The iPhone can dial your friend, download your schedule, organize your music and .... read you a comic book?

As strange as that may sound to a generation who grew up reading paper comics, the next generation of comic book fans could be getting their fix by downloading motion comics on iTunes. And for small press publishers who are already struggling to compete, the distribution opportunity of the iPhone offers an enticing alternative to paper.

"I believe that this medium is the future of the comic book industry," said publisher Christopher Folino, whose small comic book company Catastrophic Comics just began offering its motion comic Sparks for iPhone. "We live hectic lives, and motion comics will kill time while you're at the DMV or waiting in Starbucks. A TV show or a movie is too long. This way you get enough entertainment without having to block out a lot of your time."

Over the last year, several smaller comic book publishers have been releasing static images of their comics as iPhone downloads, such as IDW's Star Trek comics and Jeff Smith's popular Bone series. But motion comics with live actors is a fledgling art form that is just barely being explored by larger publishers like Image Comics with its superhero series Invincible, Marvel's motion comic of Steven King's short story N, and the release of DC Comics' Watchmen by the recently launched Warner Premiere Motion Comics.

Image from Catastrophic Comics' 'Sparks'
Image from Catastrophic Comics' 'Sparks'
Image from Catastrophic Comics' 'Sparks'

But with the release of Sparks, a truly small press comic book, the idea of motion comics becomes less about promoting an existing franchise and more about a new line of distribution for small publishers who want to get their story in front of a new and wider audience.

"The opportunity came out of being frustrated with the traditional methods of distributing a monthly comic book," Folino said of the motion comic, which can be downloaded on iTunes for 99 cents an issue. "Apple was the answer in terms of being very fair in paying you for your product. They give you 70 percent out of the profit. So right off the bat, you're in a better world to make money."

Catastrophic was also in a unique position to capitalize on the opportunity because Folino and his partner, Greatest American Hero actor William Katt, have connections in Hollywood.

Catastrophic Comics partner and actor William Katt
Catastrophic Comics partner and actor William Katt
Catastrophic Comics partner and actor William Katt

"Bill Katt and I sat down, and we decided to treat the motion comic like its own media instead of having bubbles and trying to have one soundtrack for the whole video," Folino said. "And even more important, we wanted great voice actors, so we reached out to legendary voice actor and good friend Michael Bell to help us get real SAG actors. The pacing is spot on and we don't have one guy narrating all the characters.

"It came together quickly and it's a great piece of art," he said. "It makes almost every other motion comic book look like child's play. Sparks is a very visual book. J.M. Ringuet did some amazing artwork, and with the motion comic book, we've added the right mood, the music, sound effects and voice talent for you to experience Sparks. We have the best motion comic book to date ever created."

Because of the company's experience with the new medium, Folino said Catastrophic is already working with other publishers to make more licensed properties into motion comic books for iPhone.

'Sparks' voice actor Michael Pare
'Sparks' voice actor Michael Pare
'Sparks' voice actor Michael Pare

"It's a small investment for millions of dollars at stake. And don't worry, book store owners, this will only drive business back into your stores. We live in a hyper reality where kids can get what they want any time they want. You'll be selling motion comic books with bundles of hard cover books with exclusive content not found on iTunes," he said. "I'd say that in a short period of time, you'll see motion comic books coming out on Demand TV, Airplanes, Blockbuster, Netflix, Game Stop and in book store, and you can bundle them together with the printed book."

And while Folino thinks motion comics are a wave of the future, Catastrophic isn't abandoning print comics. The company's Greatest American Hero comic, co-published with Arcana, is still coming out monthly through traditional comic book outlets. But he believes the real innovation for his company right now is happening in the digital world.

"This is the gold rush and it's happening right as we speak. When we release Sparks #2 in a few weeks, we have something else we did with the application that is going to change the medium once again," he said. "We are having fun putting the emotion into motion comics. And yes, I've been saving that one up for two weeks."

Also on Newsarama:

Inside the World of Warner Bros. Motion Comics

2009 - Year of the Comic Book Movie (Again?)

William Katt Talks Catastrophic Comics

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