Because Amazon's electronic reader is only black and white, comics and Kindle don't seem to go together.
But publisher Archaia Comics isn't letting that stop them, reaching out to Kindle readers with a crime graphic novel called Tumor.
"We're trying to do basically the same thing all independent publishers are, which is trying to figure out the problem of digital comics," said Stephen Christy, director of development for Archaia. "Our big motto at Archaia is to try every digital device we can and figure out which works the best. We knew the Kindle wasn't color going in, so obviously the first thing we could do to get around that was to just do the books in black and white."
While most publishers are translating printed comics to digital formats, Archaia chose to make their first Kindle release an exclusive for the digital reader: The new Tumor serialized graphic novel by writer Joshua Fialkov and artist Noel Tuazon.
"Tumor was planned as a black and white book anyway. It started life as a black and white, so moving that to the Kindle was a pretty easy process to do, actually," Christy said. "Here's a device that has hundreds of thousands of people who bought it, and there's never been a comic book to debut on the Kindle before. So we had been talking to Amazon about all Archaia's titles, but we came to them and said, 'What if we created a comic specifically for this machine?'"
What resulted was a specially formatted, original graphic novel that is available on Kindle and the iPhone Kindle app before it ever sees print. The comic was designed specifically for the size, format and distribution opportunity of the Kindle, which uses a special electronic ink technology. Tumor is being released as a syndicated graphic novel in eight chapters, joining more than 300,000 book titles that are already available for Kindle readers to download instantly to their handheld digital readers.
"It certainly has a more viral feel than just releasing a paper edition, as it's really about your readers getting the word out from chapter to chapter, and doing your best to communicate with them about when the chapters will be available," Fialkov said. "Probably my favorite thing thus far is how I've been able to provide tons of bonus features that enhance the comic, in theory, over at www.tumorthecomic.com. Because the entire process is digital, I think there's less hesitation in a reader to open up the web browser on their device and check out the behind-the-scenes stuff than for a reader with a paper book who then has to go to their computer and pull up the site."
The comic debuted earlier this month, and according to Christy, the response from Kindle readers has been surprisingly enthusiastic.
"I had no idea it would be this big. It was the No. 1 download on the Kindle for the three weeks since it came out, and it's been on the Top 20 purchased graphic novels on Amazon," Christy said. "I talked to Josh when it debuted, and I joked with him that he was beating some little independent comic called Watchmen."
One of the reasons behind Archaia premiering a comic on Amazon's Kindle, Christy said, was to attract people who have never read comics before. "We believe the way to do that isn't through superhero crossovers or endless summer events. It's just through doing good books that are accessible to everyone. And the reason that Tumor is what we put on the Kindle is that Tumor is a great crime story," Christy said. "Crime is a genre that people are already reading, even if they don't read comic books."
Tumor is the story of Frank Armstrong, a down-in-the-dumps, out-of-work private investigator who finally gets a big job on the day that he's diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. "So, he decides that he's going to go out with a bang and solve this case before dying," said Fialkov, the comic's author. "But, he's got to fight off the symptoms and side effects of having a brain tumor, including hallucinations, seizures, and utter confusion. Essentially, he's a private eye who can't depend on his mind, and that's just about all a detective has."
After the release of all eight chapters, the comic will be collected in hardcover by Archaia. The lead character's "situation" means the end of the graphic novel is most likely a real end to Frank Armstrong's story, but Fialkov said, depending on the response, he's interested in doing more stories about the characters that could serve as a prequel to the current story.
"I've completely fallen in love with these characters, and especially the relationship between the main character, Frank, and a dirty cop who gives him business," he said.
In the meantime, Kindle readers can enjoy the current run, while people without Kindles or iPhones can read the chapters a few weeks after their release at www.tumorthecomic.com.
"I'm immensely proud of the work that artist Noel Tuazon and I are doing on the book, and I really hope everyone gives it a chance," Fialkov said. "We're trying to do something that's pretty different both in terms of story and delivery method, but, at its heart, I think it's a solid crime comic that a lot of readers would really enjoy."
Christy said all the comics that Archaia will be releasing on the Kindle are also being formatted in color for future color versions of the Kindle. "Whenever that future version comes out in color, all the files will be forward compatible. So if you download The Killer, it will be in color," he said.
Christy is also hoping this type of distribution avenue helps small publishers actually boost sales of print comics.
"When you publish a comic book, the sheer amount of money you have to spend on shipping, and distribution, and warehousing... all that stuff is really monumental," he said. "And what's great about digital comics, no matter what platform it's on, you're cutting out all those costs, which means for an independent company, with independent books that might not be as popular as the big two, it means you'll have a better chance of distributing your comic in a profitable way.
"But Tumor is not only going to be on the Kindle. As much as Archaia is trying to find digital avenues, Archaia is always going to be a publisher. You're never going to not see us publish comic books," he said. "So we are publishing Tumor. But this is kind of a new model in that you can be seeing a profit off a book by selling it through places like Amazon before it even comes out in print. You could even have a digital distribution pay for an eventual print distribution. And that actually ends up benefitting the future of printed comics in a marketplace where it's harder and harder for independent comic books.
"And what it really comes down to is, I just want more people to be reading comics," he said. "So if digital comics are a way to get more eyes on comic books, then that's a good thing and it makes me happy."