The Q: Changing Technology, Changing Comics
Readers Want to Pay for Digital Comics
For this month's "The Q," we asked a variety of people in the industry about the future of comic books in the face of new technology.
What is your opinion of new comic book technology, such as e-comics, webcomics and motion comics, and what challenges and opportunities do you think they offer to the comics industry?
Jamal Igle (Supergirl): I would be an idiot to think that digital comics weren't the next step in comics. The problem we have right now, and it's not a problem, more of a challenge, is profit based. E-comics and Webcomics are great for independent creators in terms of getting their work out to as many people as possible. However, there are so many of them right now that don't have any kind of promotion. I can think of six that I look at with any type of regularity and three of them are probably the most popular (Sinfest, Girls with Slingshots and PVP). A lot of the others aren't to my personal tastes, but I'm sure they have readers.
Major publishers however, I feel, won't be able to make the jump to a profit based E-comic format until the majority of the publishing industry makes the switch to a paperless E-reader format. One thing that impedes it is that people are used to getting things online for either a minimal cost or no cost at all. Another is that for the time being there isn't a full color portable E- reader that people can afford cheaply. Netbooks are one possibility but being a Mac guy personally, I'll wait until Apple comes up with one with enough storage space to make it worthwhile. Some webcomikers are able to translate their strips into trades and make a living selling those. However it takes time to build that kind of audience, and some people can't afford to do it.
Technology is constantly on the march, so I do foresee a partial change to E-comics, but not a full one anytime soon. Motion Comics though, are very cool. I would love to see more of them.
Jeff Parker (Agents of Atlas, Exiles): I'm excited about the idea of a comics reader like the Kindle, or it may be the Kindle itself at some point. I'd assume we'd all be buying those e-comics on a tiered subscription plan like the way you get cable television, and the focus of actual printing would then be trade collections and graphic novels. If the major comics companies will embrace that now and get us ready for it, it could really be a huge shot in the arm for the industry. I'm guessing you would want to figure out a coding format that works only for an electronic reader, to combat piracy.
Even though you could do some inventive stuff with storytelling, I think you'd want to stick close to something that works on a comics page for the eventual print collections. Companies would also probably want to sell their own e-readers eventually too. One nice effect is that you wouldn't be bound by budget to having to use dull uncoated stock paper like many comics are, every book could have the chance to look as polished as any other. I think it would even the playing field for newer books and properties by making it affordable to try them. Bring it on!
Rags Morales (Justice League of America, Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps): It would be really cool to see something of mine as a motion comic.
Having said that, I think this medium has already been compromised from a purist standpoint. It's a shame that upcoming generations won't get the feeling and vibe I remember when I was a wee little fan.
I can easily remember specific panels and dialogue that pointed me in this direction as a profession, but what I remember the most is the feel of a book in my hand, the smell of newsprint, and that of being in my own little world.
Computers won't ever generate that kind of feeling, ever. Computers have become a daily necessity and with that comes contempt.
I'm sure there are economic reasons for all involved that can make this an attractive option, but I can't imagine what it would be like to read a comic with pop-up ads. There's an exclusivity that comes with this medium, and it wouldn't be the same. Then again, upcoming generations wouldn't know the difference, so asking me is moot.
I'm sure it's all awesome until the power goes out.
Ed Brubaker (Captain America, The Marvels Projects, Daredevil): For my money, nothing beats printed comics and graphic novels, but the new technology offers one big advantage that makes it very appealing... the direct distribution of content to the reader/viewer. I don't think print is dead, or any of those old saws, and I don't think that ecomics or motion comics will ever give a reader the same experience as print does, but it's hard to argue the impact they'll have on the market in the coming years.
Filip Sablik (Publisher, Top Cow Productions): These new formats offer comics some really interesting possibilities to get our content out to potential readers who aren't currently going into comic shops. Webcomics have proven they can be successful and profitable for single cartoonists, but I've yet to see a company utilize them as anything other than a promotional tool. The metrics don't seem to be there yet to support larger infrastructures using webcomics as a source of revenue.
I'm personally not a huge fan of motion comics, as they seem to me to be not quite comics and not quite animation, but rather a somewhat bastardized form of both. That being said, if someone figured out a really impressive way to make it work, I'd be open to it.
E-comics seem to have the greatest potential for publishers, but a number of questions remain unanswered - what's the delivery system, what price point (if any) makes sense, how does the format and story-telling of comics change to adapt to being read on a computer screen or smart phone and how do we also convert online readers to people that buy printed volumes. I do think that we aren't that far away from seeing a solution being discovered.
Ethan Van Sciver (The Flash: Rebirth): It may well be that E-comics beat my idea of drawing comics on the inside of a cave and inviting people to come and read them in exchange for meats and furs, but I must remind people who believe this that the 50's promised robot servants in the future. These things are difficult to predict, but the blue chip for me will always be hieroglyphics.